(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The sorceress of Rome"

3 1822 01097 1562 











3 1822 01097 1562 



A 




he Sorceress 
of Rome 



WORKS OF 
NATHAN GALLIZIER 

9 

Castel del Monte . . . . $1.50 
The Sorceress of Rome . . 1.5 



L. C. PAGE & COMPANY 
New England Building, Boston, Mass. 



THE " 

SORCERgSS 
OP ROME 

BY 

NATHAN G4LLIZIER 




PICTURES BY 
THEKINNEY5 



DECOEATIONS BYP.VERBURG 

L.G.PAGE $ COMPANY 
BOSTON 



Copyright, 
BY L. C. PAGE & COMPANY 

(INCORPORATED) 



Entered at Stationer s Hall, London 



All rights reserved 



First impression, October, 1907 



COLONIAL PRESS 

Eltctrotyped and Printed by C. H . Simonds & Co. 
Boston, U.S.A. 



INTRODUCTION 

The darkness of the tenth century is dissipated by no con 
temporary historian. Monkish chronicles alone shed a faint 
light over the discordant chaos of the Italian world. Rome 
was no longer the capital of the earth. The seat of empire had 
shifted from the banks of the Tiber to the shores of the Bosporus, 
and the seven hilled city of Constantino had assumed the im 
perial purple of the ancient capital of the Caesars. 

Centuries of struggles with the hosts of foreign invaders 
had hi time lowered the state of civilization to such a degree, 
that hi point of literature and art the Rome of the tenth century 
could not boast of a single name worthy of being trans 
mitted to posterity. Even the memory of the men whose 
achievements in the days of its glory constituted the pride and 
boast of the Roman world, had become almost extinct. A 
great lethargy benumbed the Italian mind, engendered by the 
reaction from the incessant feuds and broils among the petty 
tyrants and oppressors of the country. 

Together with the rest of the disintegrated states of Italy, 
united by no common bond, Rome had become the prey of the 
most terrible disorders. Papacy had fallen into all manner of 
corruption. Its former halo and prestige had departed. The 
chair of St. Peter was sought for by bribery and controlling 
influence, often by violence and assassination, and the city was 
oppressed by factions and awed into submission by foreign 
adventurers in command of bands collected from the outcasts of 
all nations. 

From the day of Christmas hi the year 800, when at the hands 
of Pope Leo III, Charlemagne received the imperial crown 
of the West, the German Kings dated their right as rulers of 

vii 



INTRODUCTION 

Rome and the Roman world, a right, feebly and ineffectually 
contested by the emperors of the East. It was the dream of 
every German King immediately upon his election to cross the 
Alps to receive at the hand of the Pope the crown of a country 
which resisted and resented and never formally recognized a 
superiority forced upon it. Thus from time to time we rind 
Rome alternately in revolt against German rule, punished, 
subdued and again imploring the aid of the detested foreigners 
against the misrule of her own princes, to settle the disputes 
arising from pontifical elections, or as protection against 
foreign invaders and the violence of contending factions. 

Plunged in an abyss from which she saw no other means of 
extricating herself, harassed by the Hungarians hi Lombardy 
and the Saracens hi Calabria, Italy had, in the year 961, called 
on Otto the Great, King of Germany, for assistance. Little 
opposition was made to this powerful monarch. Berengar II, 
the reigning sovereign of Italy, submitted and agreed to hold 
his kingdom of him as a fief. Otto thereupon returned to 
Germany, but new disturbances arising, he crossed the Alps 
a second time, deposed Berengar and received at the hands 
of Pope John XII the imperial dignity nearly suspended for 
forty years. 

Every ancient prejudice, every recollection whether of 
Augustus or Charlemagne, had led the Romans to annex the 
notion of sovereignty to the name of Roman emperor, nor were 
Otto and his two immediate descendants inclined to waive 
these supposed prerogatives, which they were well able to en 
force. But no sooner had they returned to Germany than the 
old habit of revolt seized the Italians, and especially the Romans 
who were ill disposed to resume habits of obedience even to the 
sovereign whose aid they had implored and received. The 
flames of rebellion swept again over the seven hilled city 
during the rule of Otto II, whose aid the Romans had invoked 
against the invading hordes of Islam, and the same republican 

viii 



INTRODUCTION 

spirit broke out during the brief, but fantastic reign of his son, 
the third Otto, directing itself in the latter instance chiefly 
against the person of the youthful pontiff, Bruno of Carinthia, 
the friend of the King, whose purity stands out in marked con 
trast against the depravity of the monsters, who, to the number 
of ten, had during the past five decades defiled the throne of 
the Apostle. Gregory V is said to have been assassinated during 
Otto s absence from Rome. 

The third rebellion of Johannes Crescentius, Senator of Rome, 
enacted after the death of the pontiff and the election of Syl 
vester II, forms but the prelude to the great drama whose final 
curtain was to fall upon the do om of the third Otto, of whose 
love for Stephania, the beautiful wife of Crescentius, innu 
merable legends are told in the old monkish chronicles and 
whose tragic death caused a lament to go throughout the world 
of the Millennium. 




CONTENTS 




BOOK THE FIRST 

Chapter Page 

I. The Grand Chamberlain 3 

II. The Pageant in the Navona 15 

III. On the Palatine 28 

IV. The Wanton Court of Theodora 40 

V. The Wager ] 53 

VI. John of the Catacombs 73 

VII. The Vision of San Pancrazio 85 

VIII. Castel San Angelo 97 

IX. The Sermon in the Ghetto 116 

X. The Cicilian Dancer 132 

XI. Nilus of Gaeta 144 

XII. Red Falernian 154 

XIII. Dead Leaves 162 

XIV. The Phantom at the Shrine 173 

XV. The Death Watch 184 

XVI. The Conclave 196 

BOOK THE SECOND 

I. The Meeting 201 

II. The Queen of Night 208 

III. The Elixir of Love 222 

IV. The Secret of the Tomb 233 

V. The Grottos of Egeria 243 

VI. Beyond the Grave 261 

VII. Ara Coeli 273 



CONTENTS 

Chapter Page 

VIII. The Gothic Tower 285 

IX. The Snare of the Fowler 294 

X. The Temple of Neptune 302 

XI. The Incantation 314 

XII. The Hermitage of Nilus 323 

XIII. The Lion of Basalt 339 

XIV. The Last Tryst 350 

XV. The Storm of Castel San Angelo .... 374 

XVI. The Forfeit 397 

XVII. Nemesis 407 

XVIII. Vale Roma 423 

BOOK THE THIRD 

I. Paterno 433 

II. Memories 437 

III. The Consummation 445 

IV. The Angel of the Agony 455 

V. Return 462 





LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Page 

" Was Stephania not overacting her part?" (See page j//) Frontispiece 
"Looking up from the task he was engaged in " . . .81 
" Persisting in his endeavour to remove her mask "... 138 
" The haunting memories of Stephania " 438 





Book the First 

he Truce 
of God 



" As I came through the desert, thus it was 
As I came through the desert: All was black, 
In heaven no single star, on earth no track; 
A brooding hush without a stir or note, 
The air so thick it clotted in my throat. 
And thus for hours ; then some enormous things 
Swooped past with savage cries and clanking wings ; 

But I strode on austere; 

No hope could have no fear." 

James Thomson. 




BOOK THE FIRST 

CHAPTER I 

THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

T was the hour of high noon 
on a sultry October day in 
Rome, in the year of our Lord 
nine hundred and ninety-nine. 
In the porphyry cabinet of 
the imperial palace on Mount 
Aventine, before a table covered 
with parchments and scrolls, 
there sat an individual, who 
even in the most brilliant as 
sembly would have attracted general and immediate attention. 
Judging from his appearance he had scarcely passed his 
thirtieth year. His bearing combined a marked grace and in 
tellectuality. The finely shaped head poised on splendid 
shoulders denoted power and intellect. The pale, olive tints 
of the face seemed to intensify the brilliancy of the black eyes 
whose penetrating gaze revealed a singular compound of 
mockery and cynicism. The mouth, small but firm, was not 
devoid of disdain, and even cruelty, and the smile of the thin, 
compressed lips held something more subtle than any passion 
that can be named. His ears, hands and feet were of that 
delicacy and smallness, which is held to denote aristocracy of 
birth. And there was in his manner that indescribable com 
bination of unobtrusive dignity and affected elegance which, in 
all ages and countries, through all changes of manners and 
customs has rendered the demeanour of its few chosen pos 
sessors the instantaneous interpreter of their social rank. 

3 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

He was dressed in a crimson tunic, fastened with a clasp of 
mother-of-pearl. Tight fitting hose of black and crimson 
terminating in saffron-coloured shoes covered his legs, and a red 
cap, pointed at the top and rolled up behind brought the head 
into harmony with the rest of the costume. 

Now and then, Benilo, the Grand Chamberlain, cast quick 
glances at the sand-clock on the table before him; at last 
with a gesture of mingled impatience and annoyance, he 
pushed back the scrolls he had been examining, glanced again 
at the clock, arose and strode to a window looking out upon 
the western slopes of Mount Aventine. 

The sun was slowly setting, and the light green silken curtains 
hung motionless, in the almost level rays. The stone houses of 
the city and her colossal rums glowed with a brightness almost 
overpowering. Not a ripple stirred the surface of the Tiber, 
whose golden coils circled the base of Aventine ; not a breath 
of wind filled the sails of the deserted fishing boats, which 
swung lazily at their moorings. Over the distant Campagna 
hung a hot, quivering mist and hi the vineyards climbing the 
Janiculan Mount not a leaf stirred upon its slender stem. 
The ramparts of Castel San Angelo dreamed deserted in the 
glow of the westering sun, and beyond the horizon of ancient 
Portus, torpid, waveless and suffused hi a flood of dazzling 
brightness, the Tyrrhene Sea stretched toward the cloudless 
horizon which closed the sun-bright view. 

How long the Grand Chamberlain had thus abstractedly 
gazed out upon the seven-hilled city gradually sinking into the 
repose of evening, he was scarcely conscious, when a slight 
knock, which seemed to come from the wall, caused him to 
start. After a brief interval it was repeated. Benilo drew the 
curtains closer, gave another glance at the sand-clock, nodded 
to himself, then, approaching the opposite wall, decorated 
with scenes from the Metamorphoses of Ovid, touched a hidden 
spring. Noiselessly a panel receded and, from the chasm thus 

4 



THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

revealed, something like a shadow passed swiftly into the 
cabinet, the panel closing noiselessly behind it. 

Benilo had reseated himself at the table, and beckoned his 
strange visitor to a chair, which he declined. He was tall and 
lean and wore the gray habit of the Penitent friars, the cowl 
drawn over his face, concealing his features. 

For some minutes neither the Grand Chamberlain nor his 
visitor spoke. At last Benilo broke the silence. 

" You are the bearer of a message? " 

The monk nodded. 

" Tell me the worst! Bad news is like decaying fruit. It 
becomes the more rotten with the keeping." 

" The worst may be told quickly enough," said the monk 
with a voice which caused the Chamberlain to start. 

" The Saxon dynasty is resting on two eyes." 

Benilo nodded. 

" On two eyes," he repeated, straining his gaze towards the 
monk. 

" They will soon be closed for ever! " 

The Chamberlain started from his seat. 

" I do not understand." 

" The fever does not temporize." 

" Tis the nature of the raven to croak. Let thine im 
provising damn thyself." 

" Fate and the grave are relentless. I am the messenger 
of both! " 

" King Otto dying ? " the Chamberlain muttered to himself. 
" Away from Rome, the Fata Morgana of his dreams ? " 

A gesture of the monk interrupted the speaker. 

" When a knight makes a vow to a lady, he does not thereby 
become her betrothed. She oftener marries another." 

" Yet the Saint may work a miracle. The Holy Father is 
praying so earnestly for his deliverance, that Saint Michael 
may fear for his prestige, did he not succour him." 

5 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Your heart is tenderer than I had guessed." 

" And joined by the prayers of such as you " 

The monk raised his hand. 

" Nay, I am not holy enough." 

" I thought they were all saints at San Zeno." 

" That is for Rome to say." 

There was a brief pause during which Benilo gazed into 
space. The monk heard him mutter the word " Dying - 
dying " as if therein lay condensed the essence of all his 
life. 

Reseating himself the Chamberlain seemed at last to remem 
ber the presence of his visitor, who scrutinized him stealthily 
from under his cowl. Pointing to a parchment on the table 
before him, he said dismissing the subject: 

" You are reported as one in whom I may place full trust, 
in whom I may implicitly confide. I hate the black cassocks. 
A monk and misfortune are seldom apart. You see I dissemble 
not." 

The Grand Chamberlain s visitor nodded. 

" A viper s friend must needs be a viper, like to like ! " 

" Tis not the devil s policy to show the cloven hoof." 

" Yet an eavesdropper is best equipped for a prophet." 

Again the Chamberlain started. 

Straining his gaze towards the monk, who stood immobile 
as a phantom, he said: 

" It is reported that you are about to render a great service 
to Rome." 

The monk nodded. 

" A country without a king is bad ! But to carry the matter 
just a trifle farther, to dream of Christendom without a 
Pope " 

" You would not dare ! " exclaimed Benilo with real or 
feigned surprise, " you would not dare ! In the presence of 
the whole Christian world ? Rome can do nothing without 

6 



THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

the Sun, nothing without the Pope. Take away his bene 
diction : * Urbi et Orbi What would prosper ? " 

" You are a poet and a Roman. I am a monk and a native 
of Aragon." 

Benilo shrugged his shoulders. 

" Tis but the old question : Cui bono? How many pontiffs 
have, within the memory of man, defiled the chair of Saint 
Peter ? Who are your reformers ? Libertines and gossipers in 
the taverns of the Suburra, among fried fish, painted women, 
and garlic; in prosperity proud, in adversity cowards, but 
infamous ever! The fifth Gregory alone soars so high above 
the earth, he sees not the vermin, the mire beneath." 

" Perhaps they wished to let the mire accumulate, to furnish 
work for the iron broom of your tramontane saint! Are not 
his shoulders bent in holy contemplation, like the moon in the 
first quarter ? Is he not shocked at the sight of misery and of 
dishevelled despair? His sensitive nerves would see them with 
the hair dressed and bound like that of an antique statue." 

" Ay ! And the feudal barons stick in his palate like the hook 
in the mouth of the dog fish." 

" We want no more martyrs ! The light of the glow-worm 
continues to shine after the death of the insect." 

" It was a conclave, that disposed of the usurper, John 
XVI." 

" Ay ! And the bravo, when he discovered his error, paid for 
three candles for the pontiff s soul, and the monk who officiated 
at the last rites praised the departed so loudly, that the corpse 
sat up and laughed. And now he is immortal and possesses the 
secret of eternal life," the monk concluded with downcast 
eyes. 

" Yet there is one I fear, one who seems to enlist a special 
providence in his cause." 

" Gerbert of Cluny " 

" The monk of Aurillac ! " 

7 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" They say that he is leagued with the devil ; that in his 
closet he has a brazen head, which answers all questions, 
and through which the devil has assured him that he shall not 
die, till he has said mass hi Jerusalem." 

"He is competent to convert a brimstone lake." 

" Yet a true soldier seeks for weak spots in the armour." 

" I am answered. But the time and the place? " 

" In the Ghetto at sunset." 

" And the reward ? " 

" The halo of a Saint." 

" What of your conscience s peace ? " 

" May not a man and his conscience, like ill-mated consorts, 
be on something less than speaking terms ? " 

" They kill by the decalogue at San Zeno." 

" Exitus acta probat! " returned the monk solemnly. 

Benilo raised his hand warningly. 

" Let him disappear quietly ecclesiastically." 

" What is gamed by caution when one stands on an earth 
quake ? " asked the monk. 

" You deem not, then, that Heaven might take so strong an 
interest in Gerbert s affairs, as to send some of the blessed to 
his deliverance? " queried Benilo suavely. 

The Chamberlain s visitor betrayed impatience. 

" If Heaven troubled itself much about what is done on earth, 
the world s business would be well-nigh bankrupt." 

"Ay! And even the just may fall by his own justice!" 
nodded Benilo. " He should have made his indulgences dearer, 
and harder to win. Why takes he not the lesson from women? " 

There was a brief pause, during which Benilo had arisen 
and paced up and down the chamber. His visitor remained 
immobile, though his eyes followed Benilo s every step. 

At last the Grand Chamberlain paused directly before him. 

" How fares his Eminence of Orvieto ? He was ailing at 
last reports," he asked. 

8 



THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

" He died on his way to Rome, of a disease, sudden as the 
plague. He loved honey, they will accuse the bees." 

With a nod of satisfaction Benilo continued his peram 
bulation. 

" Tell me better news of our dearly beloved friend, Mon- 
signor Agnello, Archbishop of Cosenza, Clerk of the Chamber 
and Vice-Legate of Viterbo." 

" He was found dead in his bed, after eating a most hearty 
supper," the monk spoke dolefully. 

" Alas, poor man ! That was sudden. But such holy men 
are always ready for their call," replied the Grand Chamberlain 
with downcast eyes. " And what part has his Holiness as 
signed me in his relics? " 

" Some flax of his hair shirt, to coil a rope therewith," 
replied the monk. 

"A princely benefaction! But your commission for the 
Father of Christendom? For indeed I fear the vast treasures 
he has heaped up, will hang like a leaden mountain on his 
ascending soul." 

" The Holy Father himself has summoned me to Rome! " 
The words seemed to sound from nowhere. Yet they hovered 
on the air like the knell of Fate. 

The Grand-Chamberlain paused, stared and shuddered. 

" And who knows," continued the monk after a pause, 
" but that by some divine dispensation all the refractory 
cardinals of the Sacred College may contract some incurable 
disease? Have you secured the names, just to ascertain if 
their households are well ordered ? " 

" The name of every cardinal and bishop in Rome at the 
present hour." 

" Give it to me." 

A hand white as that of a corpse came from the monk s 
ample parting sleeves in which Benilo placed a scroll, which he 
had taken from the table. 

9 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

The monk unrolled it. After glancing down the list of names, 
he said: 

" The Cardinal of Gregorio." 

The Chamberlain betokened his understanding with a nod. 

" He claims kinship with the stars." 

" The Cardinal of San Pietro in Montorio." 

An evil smile curved Benilo s thin, white lips. 

" An impostor, proved, confessed, his conscience pawned 
to a saint " 

" The Cardinal of San Onofrio, he, who held you over the 
baptismal fount," said the monk with a quick glance at the 
Chamberlain. 

" I had no hand in my own christening." 

The monk nodded. 

" The Cardinal of San Silvestro." 

" He vowed he would join the barefoot friars, if he re 
covered." 

" He would have made a stalwart mendicant. All the women 
would have confessed to him." 

" It is impossible to escape immortality," sighed Benilo. 

" Obedience is holiness," replied the other. 

After carefully reviewing the not inconsiderable list of names, 
and placing a cross against some of them, the monk returned 
the scroll to its owner. 

When the Chamberlain spoke again, his voice trembled 
strangely. 

" What of the Golden Chalice? " 

" Offerimus tibi Domine, Calicem Salutaris," the monk 
quoted from the mass. " What differentiates Sacramental 
Wine from Malvasia? " 

The Chamberlain pondered. 

" Perhaps a degree or two of headiness? " 

" Is it not rather a degree or two of holiness? " replied the 
monk with a strange gleam in his eyes. 

10 



THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

" The Season claims its mercies." 

" Can one quench a furnace with a parable? " 

" The Holy Host may work a miracle." 

" It is the concern of angels to see their sentences enforced." 

" Sic itur ad astra," said the Chamberlain devoutly. 

And like an echo it came from his visitor s lips : 

" Sic itur ad astra ! " 

" We understand each other," Benilo spoke after a pause, 
arising from his chair. " But remember," he added with a 
look, which seemed to pierce his interlocutor through and 
through. " What thou dost, monk, thou dost. If thy hand 
fail, I know thee not ! " 

Stepping to the panel, Benilo was about to touch the secret 
spring, when a thought arrested his hand. 

" Thou hast seen my face," he turned to the monk. " It is 
but meet, that I see thine." 

Without a word the monk removed his cowl. As he did so, 
Benilo stood rooted to the spot, as if a ghost had arisen from 
the stone floor before him. 

" Madman ! " he gasped. " You dare to show yourself in 
Rome ? " 

A strange light gleamed in the monk s eyes. 

" I came in quest of the End of Time. Do you doubt the 
sincerity of my intent ? " 

For a moment they faced each other in silence, then the 
monk turned and vanished without another word through the 
panel which closed noiselessly behind him. 

When Benilo found himself once more alone, all the elas 
ticity of temper and mind seemed to have deserted him. All 
the colour had faded from his face, all the light seemed to 
have gone from his eyes. Thus he remained for a space, 
neither heeding his surroundings, nor the flight of time. At 
last he arose and, traversing the cabinet, made for a remote 
door and passed out. Whatever were his thoughts, no out- 

ii 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

ward sign betrayed them, as with the suave and impenetrable 
mien of the born courtier, he entered the vast hall of audience. 

A motley crowd of courtiers, officers, monks and foreign 
envoys, whose variegated costumes formed a dazzling kaleido 
scope almost bewildering to the unaccustomed eye, met the 
Chamberlain s gaze. 

The greater number of those present were recruited from 
the ranks of the Roman nobility, men whose spare, elegant 
figures formed a striking contrast to the huge giants of the 
German imperial guard. The mongrel and craven descendants 
of African, Syrian and Slavonian slaves, a strange jumble of 
races and types, with all the visible signs of their hetero 
geneous origin, stared with insolent wonder at the fair-haired 
sons of the North, who took their orders from no man, save the 
grandson of the mighty emperor Otto the Great, the vanquisher 
of the Magyars on the tremendous field of the Lech. 

A strange medley of palace officials, appointed after the 
ruling code of the Eastern Empire, chamberlains, pages and 
grooms, masters of the outer court, masters of the inner 
court, masters of the robe, masters of the horse, seneschals, 
high stewards and eunuchs, in their sweeping citron and 
orange coloured gowns, lent a glowing enchantment to the 
scene. 

No glaring lights marred the pervading softness of the 
atmosphere; all objects animate and inanimate seemed in 
complete harmony with each other. The entrance to the 
great hall of audience was flanked with two great pillars of 
Numidian marble, toned by time to hues of richest orange. 
The hall itself was surrounded by a colonnade of the Corinthian 
order, whereon had been lavished exquisite carvings ; in niches 
behind the columns stood statues in basalt, thrice the size of 
life. Enormous pillars of rose-coloured marble supported the 
roof, decorated in the fantastic Byzantine style; the floor, 
composed of serpentine, porphyry and Numidian marble, was a 

12 



THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN 

superb work of art. In the centre a fountain threw up sprays 
of perfumed water, its basin bordered with glistening shells 
from India and the Archipelago. 

Passing slowly down the hall, Benilo paused here and there 
to exchange greetings with some individual among the 
numerous groups, who were conversing in hushed whispers 
on the event at this hour closest to their heart, the illness of 
King Otto III, in the cloisters of Monte Gargano in Apulia 
whither he had journeyed on a pilgrimage to the grottoes of 
the Archangel. Conflicting rumours were rife as to the course 
of the illness, and each seemed fearful of venturing a surmise, 
which might precipitate a crisis, fraught with direst conse 
quences. The times and the Roman temper were uncertain. 

The countenance of Archbishop Heribert of Cologne, Chan 
cellor of the Empire, reflected grave apprehension, which was 
amply shared by his companions, Archbishop Willigis of Mentz, 
and Luitprand, Archbishop of Cremona, the Patriarch of 
Christendom, whose snow-white hair formed a striking con 
trast to the dark and bronzed countenance of Count Benedict 
of Palestrina, and Pandulph of Capua, Lord of Spoleto and 
Beneventum, the lay-members of the group. The conversation, 
though held in whispered tones and inaudible to those moving 
on the edge of their circle, was yet animated and it would seem, 
that hope had but a small share in the surmises they ventured on 
what the days to come held in store for the Saxon dynasty. 

Without paying further heed to the motley throng, which 
surged up and down the hall of audience, seemingly indifferent 
to the whispered comments upon himself as a mere man of 
pleasure, Benilo seated himself upon a couch at the western 
extremity of the hall. With the elaborate deliberation of a 
man who disdains being hurried by anything whatsoever, he 
took a piece of vellum from his doublet, on which from time 
to time he traced a few words. Assuming a reclining position, 
he appeared absorbed in deep study, seemingly unheedful of his 

13 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

surroundings. Yet a close observer might have remarked that 
the Chamberlain s gaze roamed unsteadily from one group to 
another, until some chance passer-by deflected its course and 
BenUo applied himself to his ostentatious task more studiously 
than before. 

" What does the courtier in the parrot-frock? " Duke 
Bernhardt of Saxony, stout, burly, asthmatic, addressed a tall, 
sallow individual, in a rose-coloured frock, who strutted by his 
side with the air of an inflated peacock. 

John of Calabria gave a sigh. 

" Alas! He writes poetry and swears by the ancient Gods! " 

" By the ancient Gods! " puffed the duke, " a commendable 
habit ! As for his poetry, the bees sometimes deposit their 
honey in the mouth of a dead beast." 

" And yet the Philistines solved not Samson s riddle," sighed 
the Greek. 

" Ay! And the devil never ceases to cut wood for him, who 
wishes to keep the kettle boiling," spouted the duke with an 
irate look at his companion as they lost themselves among the 
throngs. Suddenly a marked hush, the abrupt cessation of the 
former all-pervading hum, caused Benilo to glance toward the 
entrance of the audience hall. As he did so, the vellum rolled 
from his nerveless hand upon the marble floor. 



CHAPTER II 




THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

HE man, who had entered the 
hall of audience with the air of 
one to whom every nook and 
corner was familiar, looked what 
he was, a war-worn veteran, 
bronzed and hardened by the 
effect of many campaigns in 
many climes. Yet his robust 
frame and his physique betrayed 
but slight evidence of those 
fatigues and hardships which had been the habits of his life. 
Only a tinge of gray through the close-cropped hair, and now 
and then the listless look of one who has grown weary with 
campaigning, gave token that the prime had passed. In 
repose his look was stern and pensive, softening at moments 
into an expression of intense melancholy and gloom. A long 
black mantle, revealing traces of prolonged and hasty travel, 
covered his tall and stately form. Beneath it gleamed a dark 
suit of armour with the dull sheen of dust covered steel. His 
helmet, fashioned after a dragon with scales, wings, and fins of 
wrought brass, resembled the headgear of the fabled Vikings. 

This personage was Margrave Eckhardt of Meissen, com- 
mander-in-chief of the German hosts, Great Warden of the 
Eastern March, and chief adviser of the imperial youth, who 
had been entrusted to his care by his mother, the glorious 
Empress Theophano, the deeply lamented consort of Emperor 
Otto II of Saracenic renown. 

IS 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

The door through which he entered revealed a company of 
the imperial body-guard, stationed without, hi gilt-mail tunics, 
armlets and greaves, their weapon the formidable mace, sur 
mounted by a sickle-shaped halberd. 

The deep hush, which had fallen upon the assembly on 
Eckhardt s entrance into the hall, had its significance. If the 
Romans were inclined to look with favour upon the youthful 
son of the Greek princess, hi whose veins flowed the warm 
blood of the South, and whose sunny disposition boded little 
danger to their jealously guarded liberties, their sentiments 
toward the Saxon general had little in common with their 
evanescent enthusiasm over the " Wonder-child of the World." 
But if the Romans loved Eckhardt little, Eckhardt loved the 
Romans less, and he made no effort to conceal his contempt for 
the mongrel rabble, who, unable to govern themselves, chafed 
at every form of government and restraint. 

Perhaps hi the countenance of none of those assembled in 
the hall of audience was there reflected such intensity of sur 
prise on beholding the great leader as there was in the face of 
the Grand Chamberlain, the olive tints of whose cheeks had 
faded to ashen hues. His trembling hands gripped the carved 
back of the nearest chair, while from behind the powerful 
frame of the Patricius Ziazo he gazed upon the countenance 
of the Margrave. 

The latter had approached the group of ecclesiastics, who 
formed the nucleus round the venerable Archbishop of Cre 
mona. 

" What tidings from the king ? " queried the patriarch 
of Christendom. 

Eckhardt knelt and kissed Luitprand s proffered hand. 

" The Saint has worked a miracle. Within a fortnight 
Rome will once more greet the King of the Germans." 

Sighs of relief and mutterings of gladness drowned the reply 
of the archbishop. He was seen to raise his hands hi silent 

16 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

prayer, and the deep hush returned anew. Other groups 
pushed eagerly forward to learn the import of the tidings. 

The voice of Eckhardt now sounded curt and distinct, as he 
addressed Archbishop Heribert of Cologne, Chancellor of the 
Holy Roman Empire. 

" If the God to whom you pray or your patron-saint, has 
endowed you with the divine gift of persuasion, use it now 
to prompt your king to leave this accursed land and to return 
beyond the Alps. Roman wiles and Roman fever had well- 
nigh claimed another victim. My resignation lies in the hands 
of the King. My mission here is ended. I place your sovereign 
in your hands. Keep him safe. I return to the Eastern 
arch." 

Exclamations of surprise, chiefly from the German element, 
the Romans listening in sullen silence, rose round the com 
mander, like a sullen squall. 

Eckhardt waved them back with uplifted arm. 

" The king requires my services no longer. He refuses to 
listen to my counsel! He despises his own country. His sun 
rises and sets in Rome. I no longer have his ear. His coun 
sellors are Romans ! The war is ended. My sword has grown 
rusty. Let another bear the burden ! I return to the Eastern 
March!" 

During Eckhardt s speech, whose curtness barely cloaked 
the grief of the commander over a step, which he deemed 
irrevocable, the pallor in the features of the Grand Chamber 
lain had deepened and a strange light shone in his eyes, as, 
remote from the general s scrutiny, he watched and listened. 

The German contingent, however, was not to be so easily 
reconciled to Eckhardt s declaration. Bernhardt, the Saxon 
duke, Duke Burkhardt of Suabia, Count Tassilo of Bavaria 
and Count Ludeger of the Palatinate united their protests 
against a step so fatal in its remotest consequences, with the 
result that the Margrave turned abruptly upon his heels, 

17 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

strode from the hall of audience, and, passing through the 
rank and file of the imperial guard, found himself on the crest 
of Mount Aventine. 

Evening was falling. A solemn hush held enthralled the 
pulses of the universe. A dazzling glow of gold swept the 
western heavens, and the chimes of the Angelus rang out from 
untold cloisters and convents. To southward, the towering 
summits of Soractd glowed in sunset gold. The dazzling 
sheen reflected from the marble city on the Palatine proved 
almost too blinding for Eckhardt s gaze, and with quick, 
determined step, he began his descent towards the city. 

At the base of the hill his progress suffered a sudden 
check. 

A procession, weird, strange and terrible, hymning dirge- 
like the words of some solemn chant, with the eternal refrain 
" Miserere ! Miserere ! " wound round the shores of the Tiber. 
Four files of masked, black spectres, their heads engulfed in 
black hoods, wooden crucifixes dangling from their necks, 
carrying torches of resin, from which escaped floods of red 
dish light, at times obscured by thick black smoke, marched 
solemnly behind a monk, whose features could but vaguely 
be discerned in the tawny glare of the funereal light. 
No phantom procession at midnight could have inspired the 
popular mind with a terror so great as did this brotherhood of 
Death, more terrifying than the later monks and ascetics of 
Zurbaran, who so paraded the frightfulness of nocturnal 
visions in the pure, unobscured light of the sun. In num 
bers there were approximately four hundred. Their supe 
rior, a tall, gaunt and terrible monk, escorted by his acolytes, 
held aloft a large black crucifix. A fanatic of the iron 
type, whose austerity had won him a wide ascendency, the 
monk Cyprianus, his cowl drawn deeply over his face, strode 
before the brotherhood. The dense smoke of their torches, 
hanging motionless in the still air of high noon, soon obscured 

18 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

the monks from view, even before the last echoes of their 
sombre chant had died away. 

Without a fixed purpose in his mind, save that of observing 
the temper of the populace, Eckhardt permitted himself to be 
swept along with the crowds. Idlers mostly and inquisitive 
gapers, they constituted the characteristic Roman mob, always 
swarming wherever there was anything to be seen, however 
trifling the cause and insignificant the attraction. They were 
those who, not choosing to work, lived by brawls and sedition, 
the descendants of that uproarious mob, which in the latter 
days of the empire filled the upper rows in theatre and circus, 
the descendants of the rabble, whose suffrage no Caesar was 
too proud to court in the struggle against the free and freedom- 
loving remnants of the aristocracy. 

But there were foreign elements which lent life and contrast 
to the picture, elements which in equal number and profusion 
no other city of the time, save Constantinople, could offer to 
the bewildered gaze of the spectator. 

Moors from the Western Caliphate of Cordova, Saracens 
from the Sicilian conquest, mingled with white-robed Bed 
ouins from the desert; Greeks from the Morea, Byzantines, 
Epirotes, Albanians, Jews, Danes, Poles, Slavs and Magyars, 
Lombards, Burgundians and Franks, Sicilians, Neapolitans 
and Venetians, heightened by the contrast of speech, manner 
and garb the dazzling kaleidoscopic effect of the scene, while 
the powerful Northern veterans of the German king thrust 
their way with brutal contempt through the dregs of Romulus. 

After having extricated himself from the motley throngs, 
Eckhardt, continuing his course to southward and following 
the Leonine wall, soon found himself in the barren solitudes of 
Trastevere. Here he slackened his pace, and, entering a 
cypress avenue, seated himself on a marble bench, a relic of 
antiquity, offering at once shade and repose. 

Here he fell into meditation. 

19 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Three years had elapsed since the death of a young and be 
loved wife, who had gone from him after a brief but mysterious 
illness, baffling the skill of the physicians. In the ensuing solitude 
he had acquired grave habits of reflection. This day he was in 
a more thoughtful mood than common. This day more than 
ever, he felt the void which nothing on earth could fill. What 
availed his toils, his love of country, his endurance of hardships ? 
What was he the better now, in that he had marched and 
watched and bled and twice conquered Rome for the empire? 
What was this ambition, leading him up the steepest paths, 
by the brinks of fatal precipices? He scarcely knew now, 
it was so long ago. Had Ginevra lived, he would indeed have 
prized honour and renown and a name, that was on all men s 
lips. And Eckhardt fell to thinking of the bright days, when 
the very skies seemed fairer for her presence. Time, who heals 
all sorrows, had not alleviated his grief. At his urgent request 
he had been relieved of his Roman command. The very name 
of the city was odious to him since her death. Appointed to 
the office of Great Warden of the East and entrusted with the 
defence of the Eastern border lands against the ever-recurring 
invasions of Bulgarians and Magyars, the formidable name of 
the conqueror of Rome had in time faded to a mere memory. 

Not so in the camp. Men said he bore a charmed existence, 
and indeed his counsels showed the forethought and caution 
of the skilled leader, while his personal conduct was remarkable 
for a reckless disregard of danger. It was observed, though, 
that a deep and abiding melancholy had taken possession of 
the once free and easy commander. Only under the pressure 
of imminent danger did he seem to brighten into his former 
self. At other times he was silent, preoccupied. But the 
Germans loved their leader. They discussed him by their 
watch-fires; they marvelled how one so ready on the field 
was so sparing with the wine cup, how the general who could 
stop to fill his helmet from the running stream under a storm 

20 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

of arrows and javelins and drink composedly with a jest and a 
smile could be so backward at the revels. 

In the year 996, Crescentius, the Senator of Rome raised tne 
standards of revolt, expelled Gregory the Fifth and nominated 
a rival pontiff in the infamous John the Sixteenth. Otto, then 
a mere youth of sixteen summers, had summoned his hosts to 
the rescue of his friend, the rightful pontiff. Reluctantly, and 
only moved by the tears of the Empress Theophano, who 
placed the child king in his care and charge, Eckhardt had 
resumed the command of the invading army. Twice had he 
put down the rebellion of the Romans, reducing Crescentius 
to the state of a vassal, and meting out terrible punishment 
to the hapless usurper of the tiara. After recrossing the Alps, 
he had once more turned his attention to the bleak, sombre 
forests of the North, when the imperial youth was seized with 
an unconquerable desire to make Rome the capital of the 
empire. Neither prayers nor persuasions, neither the threats 
of the Saxon dukes nor the protests of the electors could shake 
Otto s indomitable will. Eckhardt was again recalled from the 
wilds of Poland to lead the German host across the Alps. 

Meanwhile increasing rumours of the impending End of Time 
began to upheave and disturb the minds. A mystical trend of 
thought pervaded the world, and as the Millennium drew 
nearer and nearer pilgrims of all ages and all stages began to 
journey Rome-ward, to obtain forgiveness for their sins, and 
to die within the pale of the Church. At first he resisted the 
strange malady of the age, which slowly but irresistibly at 
tacked every order of society. But its morbid influences, 
seconded by the memory of his past happiness, revived during 
his last journey to Rome, at last threw Eckhardt headlong into 
the dark waves of monasticism. 

During the present, to his mind, utterly purposeless ex 
pedition, it had seemed to Eckhardt that there was no other 
salvation for the loneliness in his heart, save that which 

21 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

beamed from the dismal gloom of the cloister. At other times 
a mighty terror of the great lonesomeness of monastic life 
seized him. The pulses of life began to throb strangely, surging 
as a great wave to his heart and threatening to precipitate him 
anew into the shifting scenes of the world. Yet neither mood 
endured. 

Ginevra s image had engraved itself upon his heart in lines 
deep as those which the sculptors trace on ivory with tools 
reddened with fire. Vainly had he endeavoured to cloud its 
memory by occupying his mind with matters of state, for the 
love he felt for her, dead in her grave, inspired him with secret 
terror. Blindly he was groping through the labyrinth for a 
clue - It is hard to say: " Thy will be done." 

Passing over the sharp, sudden stroke, so numbing to his 
senses at the time, that a long interval had to elapse, ere he 
woke to its full agony; passing over the subsequent days of 
yearning, the nights of vain regret, the desolation which had 
laid waste his life, Eckhardt pondered over the future. 
There was something ever wanting even to complete the dull 
torpor of that resignation, which philosophy inculcates and 
common sense enjoins. In vain he looked about for some 
thing on which to lean, for something which would lighten his 
existence. The future was cold and gray, and with spectral 
fingers the memories of the past seemed to point down the dull 
and cheerless way. He had lost himself in the labyrinth of life, 
since her guiding hand had left him, and now his soul was 
racked by conflicting emotions; the desire for the peace of a 
recluse, and the longing for such a life of action, as should 
temporarily drown the voices of anguish in his heart. 

When he arose Rome was bathed in the crimson after glow 
of departing day. The Tiber presented an aspect of peculiar 
tranquillity. Hundreds of boats with many-coloured sails and 
fantastically decorated prows stretched along the banks. 
Barges decorated with streamers and flags were drawn up 

22 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

along the quays and wharfs. The massive gray ramparts of 
Castel San Angelo glowed in the rich colours of sunset, and high 
in the azure hung motionless the great standard, with the marble 
horses and the flaming torch. 

Retracing his steps, Eckhardt soon found himself in the 
heart of Rome. An almost endless stream of people, recruiting 
themselves from all clans and classes, flowed steadily through 
the ancient Via Sacra. Equally dense crowds enlivened the 
Appian Way and the adjoining thoroughfares, leading to the 
Forum. In the Navona, then enjoying the distinction of the 
fashionable promenade of the Roman nobility, the throngs 
were densest and a vast array of vehicles from the two-wheeled 
chariot to the Byzantine lectica thronged the aristocratic 
thoroughfare. Seemingly interminable processions divided 
the multitudes, and the sombre and funereal chants of pilgrims 
and penitents resounded on every side. 

Pressing onward step for step, Eckhardt reached the arch of 
Titus; thence, leaving the fountain of Meta Sudans, and the 
vast ruins of the Flavian Amphitheatre to the right, he turned 
into the street leading to the Caelimontana Gate, known at this 
date by the name of Via di San Giovanni in Laterano. Here 
the human congestion was somewhat relieved. Some patrician 
chariots dashed up and down the broad causeway; graceful 
riders galloped along the gravelled road, while a motley crowd 
of pedestrians loitered leisurely along the sidewalks. Here a 
group of young nobles thronged round the chariot of some 
woman of rank; there, a grave, morose-looking scribe, an 
advocate or notary in the cloister-like habit of his profession, 
pushed his way through the crowd. 

While slowly and aimlessly Eckhardt pursued his way 
through the shifting crowds, a sudden shout arose in the 
Navona. After a brief interval it was repeated, and soon a 
strange procession came into sight, which, as the German 
leader perceived, had caused the acclamation on the part of 

23 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

the people. In order to avoid the unwelcome stare of the 
Roman rabble, Eckhardt lowered his vizor, choosing his point 
of observation upon some crumbled fragment of antiquity, 
whence he might not only view the approaching pageant, but 
at the same time survey his surroundings. On one side were 
the thronged and thickly built piles of the ancient city. On the 
opposite towered the Janiculan hill with its solitary palaces and 
immense gardens. The westering sun illumined the distant 
magnificence of the Vatican and suffered the gaze to expand 
even to the remote swell of the Apennines. 

The procession, which slowly wound its way towards the 
point where Eckhardt had taken his station, consisted of some 
twelve chariots, drawn by snow-white steeds, which chafed 
at the bit, reared on their haunches, and otherwise betrayed 
their reluctance to obey the hands which gripped the rein 
the hands of giant Africans in gaudy, fantastic livery. 
The inmates of these chariots consisted of groups of young 
women hi the flower of beauty and youth, whose scant airy 
garments gave them the appearance of wood-nymphs, playing 
on quaintly shaped lyres. While renewed shouts of applause 
greeted the procession of the New Vestals, as they styled them 
selves in defiance of the trade they plied, and the gaze of the 
thousands was riveted upon them, a new commotion arose 
in the Navona. A shout of terror went up, the crowds swayed 
backward, spread out and then were seen to scatter on both 
sides, revealing a chariot, harnessed to a couple of fiery Berber 
steeds, which, having taken fright, refused to obey the driver s 
grip and dashed down the populous thoroughfare. With 
every moment the speed of the frightened animals increased, 
and no hand was stretched forth from all those thousands to 
check their mad career. The driver, a Nubian in fantastic 
livery, had in the frantic effort to stop their onward rush, been 
thrown from his seat, striking his head against a curb-stone, 
where he lay dazed. Here some were fleeing, others stood 

24 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

gaping on the steps of houses. Still others, with a cry of warn 
ing followed in the wake of the fleeting steeds. Adding to the 
dismay of the lonely occupant of the chariot, a woman, magnif 
icently arrayed in a transparent garb of black gossamer-web, 
embroidered with silver stars, the reins were dragging on the 
ground. Certain death seemed to stare her in the face. Though 
apprehensive of immediate destruction she disdained to appeal 
for assistance, courting death rather than owe her life to 
the despised mongrel-rabble of Rome. Despite the terrific 
speed of the animals she managed to retain over her face the 
veil of black gauze, which completely enshrouded her, though 
it revealed rather than concealed the magnificent lines of her 
body. Eckhardt fixed his straining gaze upon the chariot, as it 
approached, but the sun, whose flaming disk just then touched 
the horizon, blinded him to a degree which made it impossible 
for him to discern the features of a face supremely fair. 

For a moment it seemed as if the frightened steeds were 
about to dash into an adjoining thoroughfare. 

Breathless and spellbound the thousands stared, yet there 
was none to risk his life in the hazardous effort of stopping the 
blind onrush of the maddened steeds. Suddenly they changed 
their course towards the point where, hemmed in by the densely 
congested throngs, Eckhardt stood. Snatching the cloak from 
his shoulders, the Margrave dashed through the living wall of 
humanity and leaped fearlessly in the very path of the snorting, 
onrushing steeds. With a dexterous movement he flung the 
dark cover over their heads, escaping instantaneous death only 
by leaping quickly to one side. Then dashing at the bits he suc 
ceeded, alone and unaided, in stopping the terrified animals, 
though dragged along for a considerable space. A great shout 
of applause went up from the throats of those who had not 
moved a hand to prevent the impending disaster. Unmindful 
of this popular outburst, Eckhardt held the frightened steeds, 
which trembled in every muscle and gave forth ominous snorts, 

25 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

until the driver staggered along. Half dazed from his 
fall and bleeding profusely from a gash in the forehead, the 
Nubian, almost frightened out of his wits, seized the lines and 
resumed his seat. The steeds, knowing the accustomed hand, 
gradually quieted down. 

At the moment, when Eckhardt turned, to gain a glimpse of 
the occupant of the chariot, a shriek close by caused him to turn 
his head. The procession of the New Vestals had come to a 
sudden stand-still, owing to the blocking of the thoroughfare, 
through which the runaway steeds had dashed, the clearing 
behind them having been quickly filled up with a human wall. 
During this brief pause some individual, the heraldry of whose 
armour denoted him a Roman baron, had pounced upon one of 
the chariots and seized one of its scantily clad occupants. 
The girl had uttered a shriek of dismay and was struggling to 
free herself from the ruffian s clutches, while her companions 
vainly remonstrated with her assailant. To hear the shriek, 
to turn, to recognize the cause, and to pounce upon the Roman, 
were acts almost of the same moment to Eckhardt. Clutching 
the girl s assailant by the throat, without knowing in whose 
defence he was entering the contest, he thundered in accents 
of such unmistakable authority, as to give him little doubt of 
the alternative : " Let her go ! " 

With a terrible oath, Gian Vitelozzo released his victim, 
who quickly remounted her chariot, and turned upon his 
assailant. 

" Who in the name of the foul fiend are you, to interfere 
with my pleasure? " he roared, almost beside himself with rage 
as he perceived his prey escaping his grasp. 

Through his closed visor, Eckhardt regarded the noblemen 
with a contempt which the latter instinctively felt, for he paled 
even ere his antagonist spoke. Then approaching the baron, 
Eckhardt whispered one word into his ear. Vitelozzo s cheeks 
turned to leaden hues and, trembling like a whipped cur, he 

26 



THE PAGEANT IN THE NAVONA 

slunk away. The crowds, upon witnessing the noble s dismay, 
broke into loud cheers, some even went so far as to kiss the hem 
of Eckhardt s mantle. 

Shaking himself free of the despised rabble whose numbers 
had been a hundred times sufficient to snatch his prey from 
Vitelozzo and his entire clan, Eckhardt continued upon his 
way, wondering whom he had saved from certain death, and 
whom, as he thought, from dishonour. The procession of 
the New Vestals had disappeared in the haze of the distance. 
Of the chariot and its mysterious inmate not a trace was to be 
seen. Without heeding the comments upon his bravery, 
unconscious that two eyes had followed his every step, since he 
left the imperial palace, Eckhardt slowly proceeded upon his 
way, until he found himself at the base of the Palatine. 



CHAPTER III 




ON THE PALATINE 

HE moon was rising over the 
distant Alban hills, when Eck- 
hardt began his ascent. Now and 
then, he paused on a spot, which 
offered a particularly striking 
view of the city, reposing in the 
fading light of day. No sound 
broke the solemn stillness, save 
the tolling of convent-bells on 
remote Aventine, or the sombre 
chant of pilgrims before some secluded shrine. 

Like the ghost of her former self, Rome seemed to stretch 
interminably into the ever deepening purple haze. 

Colossal watch-towers, four-cornered, massive, with twin- 
like steeples and crenelated ramparts, dominated the view on 
all sides. Their shadows fell afar from one to another. Here 
and there, conspicuous among the houses, loomed up the 
wondrous structures of old Rome, sometimes singly, sometimes 
in thickly set groups. Beyond the walls the aqueducts pursued 
their Icng and sinuous path-ways through the Campagna. 
The distant Alban hills began to shroud their undulating 
summits in the slowly rising mists of evening. 

What a stupendous desolation time had wrought! 

As he slowly proceeded up the hill, Eckhardt beheld the 

Palatine s enormous structures crumbled to ruin. The high- 

spanned vaulted arches and partitions still rested on their firm 

foundations of Tophus stone, their ruined roofs supported by 

28 



ON THE PALATINE 

massive pillars, broken, pierced and creviced. Resplendent in 
the last glow of departing day towered high the imperial 
palaces of Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian. The Septizonium 
of Alexander Severus, still well preserved in its seven stories, 
had been converted into a feudal stronghold by Alberic, chief 
of the Optimates, while Caligula s great piles of stone rose high 
and dominating in the evening air. The Jovian temples were 
still standing close to the famous tomb of Romulus, but the old 
triumphal course was obstructed with filth. In crescent shape 
here and there a portico was visible, shadeless and long de 
prived of roofing. High towered the Coliseum s stately ruins ; 
Circus and Stadium were overgrown with bushes ; of the baths 
of Diocletian and Caracalla, once magnificent and imposing, 
only ruins remained. Crumbling, weatherbeaten masonry 
confronted the eye on every turn. Endless seemed the tangled 
maze of crooked lanes, among which loomed a temple-gable 
green with moss or a solitary column; an architrave resting 
on marble columns, looked down upon the huts of poverty. 
Nero s golden palace and the Basilica of Maxentius lay in 
ruins; but in the ancient Forum temples were still standing, 
their slender columns pointing to the skies with their ornate 
Corinthian capitals. 

The Rome of the Millennium was indeed but the phantom 
of her own past. On all sides the eye was struck with inex 
orable decay. Where once triumphal arches, proud, erect, 
witnessed pomp and power, crumbling piles alone recorded 
the memory of a glorious past. Great fragments strewed the 
virgin-soil of the Via Sacra from the splendid arch of Con- 
stantine to the Capitol. The Roman barons had turned the 
old Roman buildings into castles. The Palatine and the ad 
joining Coelian hill were now lorded over by the powerful 
house of the Pierleoni. Crescentius, the Senator of Rome, 
claimed Pompey s theatre and the Mausoleum of the Emperor 
Hadrian, Castel San Angelo; in the waste fields of Campo 

29 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Marzio the Cavalli had seized the Mausoleum of Augustus; 
the Aventine was claimed by the Romani and Stef aneschi ; the 
Stadium of Domitian by the Massimi. In the Fora of Trajan 
and Nerva the Conti had ensconced themselves; the theatre 
of Marcellus was held by the Caetani and the Guidi ruled in 
the tomb of Metellus. 

There was an inexpressible charm in the sadness of this 
desolation which chimed strangely with Eckhardt s own We, 
now but a memory of its former self. 

It was a wonderful night. Scarce a breath of air stirred the 
dying leaves. The vault of the sky was unobscured, arching 
deep-blue over the higher rising moon. To southward the 
beacon fires from the Tor di Vergera blazed like a red star low 
down in the horizon. Wrapt in deep thought, Eckhardt followed 
the narrow road, winding his way through a wilderness of 
broken arches and fallen porticoes, through a region studded 
with convents, cloisters and the ruins of antiquity. Gray mists 
began to rise over housetops and vineyards, through which at 
intervals the Tiber gleamed like a yellow serpent in the moon 
light. Near the Ripetta long spirals of dark smoke curled up 
to the azure night-sky and the moon cast a glory on the colossal 
statue of the Archangel Michael, where it stood on the gloomy 
keep of Castel San Angelo. The rising night-wind rustled in 
organ-tones among the cypress trees ; the fountains murmured, 
and in a silvery haze the moon hung over the slumbering 
city. 

Slowly Eckhardt continued the ascent of the Palatine and 
he had scarcely reached the summit, when out of the ruins 
there rose a shadow, and he found himself face to face with 
Benilo, the Grand Chamberlain. 

" By St. Peter and St. Paul and all the saints I can re 
member! " exclaimed the latter, "is it Eckhardt, the Mar 
grave, or his ghost ? But no matter which, no man more 
welcome ! " 

30 



ON THE PALATINE 

" I am but myself," replied Eckhardt, as he grasped the 
proffered hand. 

" Little did I hope to meet you here," Benilo continued, 
regarding Eckhardt intently. " I thought you far away 
among the heathen Poles." 

" I hate the Romans so heartily, that now and then I love 
to remind them of my presence." 

" Ay! Like Timon of Athens, you would bequeath to them 
your last fig-tree, that they may hang themselves from its 
branches," Benilo replied with a smile. 

" I should require a large orchard. Is Rome at peace? " 

" The burghers wrangle about goats wool, the monks 
gamble for a human soul, and the devil stands by and watches 
the game," replied Benilo. 

" Have you surprised any strange rumours during my ab 
sence ? " questioned Eckhardt guardedly. 

" They say much or little, as you will," came the enigmatic 
reply. " I have heard your name from the lips of one, who 
seldom speaks, save to ill purpose." 

Eckhardt nodded with a grim smile, while he fixed his eyes 
on his companion. Slowly they lost themselves in the wilder 
ness of crumbling arches and porticoes. 

At last Eckhardt spoke, a strange mixture of mirth and 
irony hi his tones. 

" But your own presence among these rums ? Has Benilo, 
the Grand Chamberlain become a recluse, dwelling among 
flitter mice and jack-daws ? " 

" I have not sipped from the fount of the mystics," Benilo 
replied. " But often at the hour of dusk I seek the solitudes of 
the Palatine, which chime so strangely with my weird fancies. 
Here I may roam at will and without restraint, here I may 
revel in the desolation, enlivened only now and then by the 
shrill tones of a shepherd s pipe; here I may ramble undis 
turbed among the ruins of antiquity, pondering over the 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

ancient greatness of Rome, pondering over the mighty that 
have fallen. I have just completed an Ode all but the 
final stanzas. It is to greet Otto upon his return. The Arch 
bishop of Cologne announced the welcome tidings of the 
king s convalescence truly, a miracle of the saint! " 

Eckhardt had listened attentively, then he remarked drily: 

" Let each man take his own wisdom and see whither it will 
lead him. Otto is still pursuing a mocking phantom under the 
ruins of crumbled empires, but to find the bleached bones of 
some long-forgotten Caesar ! Truly, a worthy cause, in which 
to brave the danger of Alpine snows and avalanches and 
the fever of the Maremmas." 

" We both try to serve the King each in his way," Benilo 
replied, contritely. 

Eckhardt extended his hand. 

" You are a poet and a philosopher. I am a soldier and a Ger 
man. I have wronged you in thought forgive and forget ! " 

Benilo readily placed his hand in that of his companion. 
After a pause Eckhardt continued: 

" My business in Rome touches neither emperor nor pope. 
Once, I too, wooed the fair Siren Rome. But the Siren proved a 
Vampire. Rome is a charnel house. Her caress is Death." 

There was a brief silence. 

" Tis three years since last we strode these walks," Eck 
hardt spoke again. " What changes time has wrought! " 

" Have the dead brought you too back to Rome? " queried 
Benilo with averted gaze. 

" Even so," Eckhardt replied, as he strode by Benilo s 
side. " The dead ! Soon I too shall exchange the garb of the 
world for that of the cloister." 

The Chamberlain stared aghast at his companion. 

" You are not serious ? " he stammered, with well-feigned 
surprise. 

Eckhardt nodded. 

32 



ON THE PALATINE 

" The past is known to you ! " he replied with a heavy sigh. 
" Since she has gone from me to the dark beyond, I have 
striven for peace and oblivion in every form, in the turmoil 
of battle, before the shrines of the Saints. In vain ! I have 
striven to tame this wild passion for one dead and in her grave. 
But this love cannot be strangled as a lion is strangled, and the 
skill of the mightiest athlete avails nothing in such a struggle. 
The point of the arrow has remained in the wound. Madness, 
to wander for ever about a grave, to think eternally, fatefully 
of one who cannot see you, cannot hear you, one who has left 
earth in all the beauty and splendour of youth." 

A pause ensued, during which neither spoke. 

They walked for some time in silence among the gigantic 
ruins of the Palatine. Like an alabaster lamp the moon hung 
in the luminous vault of heaven. How peacefully fair beneath 
the star-sprinkled violet sky was this deserted region, bordered 
afar by tall, spectral cypress-trees whose dark outlines were 
clearly defined against the mellow luminance of the ether. 
At last Eckhardt and his companion seated themselves on the 
ruins of a shattered portico, which had once formed the en 
trance to a temple of Saturnus. 

Each seemed to be occupied with his own thoughts, when 
Eckhardt raised his head and gazed inquiringly at his com 
panion, who had likewise assumed a listening attitude. 
Through the limpid air of the autumnal night, like faint 
echoes from dream-land, there came softly vibrating harp- 
tones, mingled with the clash of tinkling cymbals, borne aloft 
from distant groves. Faint ringing chimes, as of silver bells, 
succeeded these broken harmonies, followed by another clash 
of cymbals, stormily persistent, then dying away on the evanes 
cent breezes. 

A strange, stifling sensation oppressed Eckhardt s heart, as 
he listened to these bells. They seemed to remind him of 
things which had long passed out of his life, the peaceful 

33 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

village-chimes in his far-away Saxon land, the brief dream of 
the happy days now for ever gone. But hark ! had he not heard 
these sounds before? Had they not caressed his ears on the 
night, when accompanying the king from Aix-la-Chapelle 
to Merse"burg, they passed the fateful Hoerselberg in Thuringia? 

Eckhardt made the sign of the cross, but the question 
rising to his lips was anticipated by Benilo, who pointed 
towards a remote region of the Aventine, just as the peals of 
the chiming bells, softened by distance into indistinct tremulous 
harmonies, and the clarion clearness of the cymbals again 
smote the stillness with their strangely luring clangour. 

" Yonder lies the palace of Theodora," Benilo remarked 
indifferently. 

Eckhardt listened with a strange sensation. 

He remembered the pageant he had witnessed in the Navona, 
the pageant, from whose more minute contemplation he had 
been drawn by the incident with Gian Vitelozzo. 

" Who is the woman ? " he questioned with some show of 
interest. 

" Regarding that matter there is considerable speculation," 
replied Benilo. 

" Have you any theory of your own ? " 

The Chamberlain shrugged his shoulders. 

" Heard you ever of a remote descendant of Marozia, still 
living in Italy ? " 

" I thought they had all been strangled long ago." 

" But if there were one, deem you, that the harlot-blood 
which flowed in the veins of her mother and all the women of 
her house would be sanctified by time, a damp convent-cell, 
and a rosary ? " 

" I know nothing of a surviving limb of that lightning- 
blasted trunk." 

" Did not the direct line of Marozia end with John XI, 
whom she succeeded in placing in the chair of St. Peter, ere 

34 



ON THE PALATINE 

she herself was banished to a convent, where she died ? " 
questioned Benilo. 

" So it is reported ! And this woman s name is ? " 

"Theodora!" 

" You know her ? " 

Benilo met Eckhardt s gaze unflinchingly. 

" I have visited her circle," he replied indifferently. 

Eckhardt nodded. He understood. 

Dexterously changing the subject Benilo continued after 
a pause. 

" If you had but some heart-felt passion, to relieve your 
melancholy; if you could but love somebody or something," he 
spoke sympathetically. " Truly, it was never destined for the 
glorious career of Eckhardt to end behind the bleak walls of a 
cloister." 

Eckhardt bowed his head. 

" Philosophy is useless. Strange ailments require strange 
cures." 

For some time they gazed in silence into the moonlit night. 
Around them towered colossal relics of ancient grandeur, 
shattered walls, naked porticoes. Wildernesses of broken 
arches stretched interminably into the bluish haze, amidst 
woods and wild vegetation, which had arisen as if to reassert 
their ancient possessions of the deserted site. 

At last Eckhardt spoke, hesitatingly at first, as one testing 
his ground, gradually with firmer purpose, which seemed to 
go straight to the heart of his companion. 

" There is much about Ginevra s sudden death that puzzles 
me, a mystery which I have in vain endeavoured to fathom. 
The facts are known to you, I can pass them over, dark as 
everything seems to me at this very moment. So quickly, so 
mysteriously did she pass out of my life, that I could not, would 
not trust the testimony of my senses. I left the house on the 
Caelian hill on that fateful night, and though I felt as if my 

35 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

eyes were bursting from my head, they did not shed a single 
tear. Where I went, or what I did, I could not tell. I walked 
about, as one benumbed, dazed, as it sometimes happens, 
when the cleaving stroke of an iron mace falls upon one s 
helmet, deafening and blinding. This I remember I passed 
the bridge near the tower of Nona and, ascending the Borgo, 
made for the gate of San Sebastian. The monks of Delia 
Regola soon appeared, walking two by two, accompanied by 
a train of acolytes, chanting the Miserere, and bearing the 
coffin covered with a large pall of black velvet." 

Eckhardt paused, drawing a deep breath. Then he continued, 
slowly : 

" All this did not rouse me from the lethargy which had 
benumbed my senses. Only the one thought possessed me: 
Since we had been severed in life, in death at least we could be 
united. We were both journeying to the same far-off land, 
and the same tomb would give us repose together. I followed 
the monks with a triumphant but gloomy joy, feeling myself 
already transported beyond the barriers of life. Ponte Sisto 
and Trastevere passed, we entered San Pancrazio." 

There was another pause, Benilo listening intently. 

" The body placed hi the chapel, prior to the performance of 
the last rites," Eckhardt continued, " I hurried away from the 
place and wandered all night round the streets like a madman, 
ready to seek my own destruction. But the hand of Providence 
withheld me from the crime. I cannot describe what I suffered ; 
the agony, the despair, that wrung my inmost heart. I could 
no longer support a life that seemed blighted with the curse of 
heaven, and I formed the wildest plans, the maddest resolutions 
in my whirling brain. For a strange, terrible thought had sud 
denly come over me. I could not believe that Ginevra was 
dead. And the longer I pondered, the greater became my 
anxiety and fear. Late in the night I returned to the chapel. 
I knelt in the shadow of the vaulted arches, leaning against 

36 



ON THE PALATINE 

the wall, while the monks chanted the Requiem. I heard the 
Requiescat in Pace, I saw them leave the chapel, but I 
remained alone in the darkness, for there was no lamp save the 
lamp of the Virgin. At this moment a bell tolled. The sacristan 
who was making the rounds through the church, preparatory 
to closing, passed by me. He saw me, without recognizing 
who I was, and said : I close the doors. I shall remain, I 
answered. He regarded me fixedly, then said : You are bold! 
I will leave the door ajar stay, if you will ! And without 
speaking another word he was out. I paid little heed to him, 
though his words had strangely stirred me. What did he mean ? 
After a few moments my reasoning subsided, but my deter 
mination grew with my fear. Everything being still as the 
grave, I approached the coffin, cold sweat upon my brow. 
Removing the pall which covered it, I drew my dagger which 
was strong and sharp, intending to force open the lid, when 
suddenly I felt a stinging, benumbing pain on my head, as 
from the blow of a cudgel. How long I lay unconscious, I 
know not. When after some days I woke from the swoon, the 
monks had raised a heavy stone over Ginevra s grave, during 
the night of my delirium. I left Rome, as I thought, for ever. 
But strange misgivings began to haunt my sleep and my waking 
hours. Why had they not permitted me to see once more the 
face I had so dearly loved, ere they fastened down for ever the 
lid of the coffin? Tis true, they contended that the ravages of 
the fever to which she had succumbed had precipitated the 
decomposition of her body. Still the more I ponder over her 
death, the more restless grows my soul. Thus I returned to 
Rome, even against my own wish and will. I will not tarry 
long. Perchance some light may beam on the mystery which 
has terrified my dreams, from a source, least expected, though 
so far I have in vain sought for the monk who conducted the 
last rites, and whose eyes saw what was denied to mine." 
There was a dead silence, which lasted for a space, until it 

37 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

grew almost painful in its intensity. At last Benilo 
spoke. 

" To return to the night of her interment. Was there no 
one near you, to dispel those dread phantoms which maddened 
your brain ? " 

" I had suffered no one to remain. I wished to be alone with 
my grief." 

" But whence the blow ? " 

" The masons had wrenched away an iron bar, in walling 
up the old entrance. Had the height been greater, I would 
not be here to tell the tale." 

Benilo drew a deep breath. He was ghastly pale. 

" But your purpose in Rome? " 

" I will find the monk who conducted the last rites I will 
have speech with Nilus, the hermit. If all else fails, the cloister 
still remains." 

" Let me entreat you not to hasten the irrevocable step. 
Neither your king nor your country can spare their illustrious 
leader." 

" Otto has made his peace with Rome. He has no further 
need of me," Eckhardt replied with bitterness. " But this I 
promise. I shall do nothing, until I have had speech with the 
holy hermit of Gaeta. Whatever he shall enjoin, thereby will 
I abide. I shall do nothing hastily, or ill-advised." 

They continued for a time in silence, each wrapt in his own 
thoughts. Without one ray of light beaming on his course, 
Eckhardt beheld a thousand vague and shadowy images 
passing before his eyes. That subterranean love, so long 
crouched at his soul s stairway, had climbed a few steps 
higher, guided by some errant gleam of hope. The weight of 
the impossible pressed no longer so heavily upon him, since he 
had lightened his burden by the long withheld confession. 
The vertigo of fatality had seized him. By a succession of 
irregular and terrrible events he believed himself hurried to- 

38 



ON THE PALATINE 

wards the end of his goal. A mighty wave had lifted him up 
and bore him onward. 

" Whither ? " 

From the distance, borne aloft on the wings of the night- 
wind, came faintly the chant of pilgrims from secluded shrines 
on the roadway. Eckhardt s mind was made up. He would 
seek Nilus, the hermit. Perchance he would point out to him 
the road to peace and set at rest the dread misgivings, which 
tortured him beyond endurance. This boon obtained, what 
mattered all else? The End of Time was nigh. It would solve 
all mysteries which the heart yearned to know. 

And while Benilo seemed to muse in silence over the strange 
tale which his companion had poured into his ear, the latter 
weighed a resolve which he dared not even breathe, much less 
confide to human ear. Truly, the task required of Nilus was 
great. 

At last Eckhardt and Benilo parted for the night. Eckhardt 
went his way, pondering, and wondering what the morrow 
would bring, and Benilo returned among the ruins of the 
Palatine, where he remained seated for a time, staring up at 
the starry night-sky, as if it contained the solution of all 
that was dark and inscrutable in man s existence. 



39 



CHAPTER IV 




THE WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

STRANGE restlessness had seized 
the Chamberlain, after his meet 
ing with the German com 
mander. The moon illumined 
the desolate region with her 
white beams, dividing the silent 
avenues into double edged lines 
of silvery white, and bluish 
shadows. The nocturnal day 
with its subdued tints disguised 
and mantled the desolation. The mutilated columns, 
the roofs, crumbled beneath the torrents and thunders 
of centuries, were less conspicuous than when seen in the 
clear, merciless light of the sun. The lost parts were 
completed by the half tints of shadows; only here and there 
a brusque beam of light marked the spot, where a whole edifice 
had crumbled away. The silent genii of Night seemed to have 
repaired the ancient city to some representation of fantastic 
life. 

As he hurried along the slopes of the hill, Benilo fancied at 
times that he beheld vague forms, lurking in the shadows; 
but they seemed to vanish the moment he approached. Low 
whisperings, an undefined hum, floated through the silence. 
First he attributed the noises to a fluttering in his ears, to the 
sighing of the night-wind or to the flight of some snake or 
lizard through the nettles. In nature all things live, even 

40 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

death; all things make themselves heard, even silence. Never 
before had Benilo felt such an involuntary terror. Once or 
twice he precipitately changed his course, hurrying down 
some narrow lane, between desolate looking rows of houses, 
low and ill-favoured, whose inmates recruited themselves from 
the lowest types of the mongrel population of Rome. 

At the Agrippina below the bridge of Nero he paused and 
gave a sigh of relief. The phantoms seemed to have vanished. 
No breath of life broke the stillness. As on a second Olympus 
the marble palaces of the Caesars towered on the summit of the 
Capitoline hill, glistening white in the ghostly moonlight. 
Below, the Tiber sent his sluggish waves down toward Ostia, 
rocking the fleet of numberless boats and barges which swung 
lazily at their moorings. 

Benilo found himself in a quarter of Rome which had been 
abandoned for centuries. Ruins of temples and porticoes 
were strewn in the waste which he traversed. Here at least 
he could breathe more freely. No one was likely to surprise 
his presence in these solitudes. The superstition of the age 
prevented the Romans from frequenting the vale between 
Mounts Aventine and Testaccio after dark, for it was believed 
to be the abode of evil spirits. 

As the Chamberlain made his way through the wilderness of 
fallen columns, shattered porticoes, and tangles of myrrh and 
acanthus, the faint clash of cymbals, like the echo of some 
distant bacchanalia, fell upon his ear. A strange fitful melody, 
rising and falling with weird thrilling cadence, was borne upon 
the perfumed breezes. 

He had not advanced very far, when through an avenue of 
tall spectral cypress trees he emerged upon a smooth and level 
lawn, shut in by black groups of cedar, through the entwined 
branches of which peeped the silver moon. 

Traversing a broad marble terrace, garlanded with a golden 
wealth of orange trees and odorous oleanders, Benilo approached 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

a lofty building, surrounded at some distance by a wall of the 
height of half -grown palms. A great gate stood ajar, which 
appeared to be closely guarded. Leaning against one of the 
massive pillars which supported it, stood an African of giant 
stature, hi scarlet tunic and white turban, who, turning his 
gleaming eyeballs on Benilo, nodded by way of salutation. 
Entering the forbidden grounds, the Chamberlain found himself 
in a spacious garden which he traversed with quick, elastic 
step, as one familiar with the locality. 

As Benilo advanced under the leafy branches, swaying in 
melancholy relief against the blue-green sky, the sight of 
thousands of coloured lamps hanging hi long festoons from 
tree to tree first caused him to start and to look about. A 
few moments later he was walking between quaintly clipped 
laurel and yew-bushes, which bordered the great avenue 
starred with semi-circular lights, where bronze and marble 
statues held torches and braziers of flame. 

Sounds of joy and merry-making fell upon his ear, causing 
a frown, like a black shadow, to flit over his face, deepening 
by stages into ill-repressed rage. In whichever manner the 
dark prophecies concerning the Millennium may have affected 
the Romans and the world at large, it was quite evident they 
disturbed not the merry circle assembled in the great hall 
beyond. 

At last Benilo found himself at the entrance of a vast cir 
cular hall. The picture which unfolded itself to his gaze was 
like a fairy fantasy. Gilded doors led in every direction into 
vast corridors, ending in a peri-style supported by pillars. 
These magnificent oval halls admitted neither the light of day 
nor the season of the year. The large central hall, at the 
threshold of which Benilo stood, reviewing the spectacle 
before him, had no windows. Silver candelabra, perpetually 
burning behind transparent curtains of sea-green gauze 
diffused a jewel-like radiance. 

42 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

And here, in the drowsy warmth, lounging on divans of 
velvet, their feet sunk in costly Indian and Persian carpets, 
drinking, gossiping, and occasionally bursting into fitful 
snatches of song, revelled a company of distinguished men, 
richly clad, representatives of the most exclusive Roman 
society of the time. They seemed bent upon no other purpose 
save to enjoy the pleasure of the immediate hour. Africans in 
fantastic attire carried aloft flagons and goblets, whose crys 
talline sheen reflected the crimson glow of the spicy 
Cyprian. 

Benilo s arrival had not been noticed. In the shadow of 
the entrance he viewed the brilliant picture with its changing 
tints, its flash of colour, its glint of gold, the enchanting 
women, who laughingly gossipped and chatted with their 
guests, freed from the least restraint in dress or manner, thus 
adding the last spark to the fire of the purple Chianti. But as 
he gazed round the circle, the shade of displeasure deepened 
in Benilo s countenance. 

Bembo, the most renowned wit in the seven-hilled city, 
had just recited one of his newest and most poignant epigrams, 
sparing neither emperor nor pope, and had been rewarded 
by the loud applause of his not too critical audience and a 
smile from the Siren, who, in the absence of the hostess, 
seemed to preside over that merry circle. With her neck and 
shoulders half veiled in transparent gauze, revealing rather 
than concealing the soft, undulating lines of her supple body 
and arms, her magnificent black hair knotted up at the back 
of her head and wreathed with ivy, Roxane smiled radiantly 
from the seat of honour, which she had usurped, the object 
of mad desire of many a one present, of eager admiration 
to all. A number of attendants moved quickly and noiselessly 
about the spacious hall, decorated with palms and other 
tropical plants, while among the revellers the conversation 
grew more lively every moment. 

43 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

In the shadow of the great door Benilo paused and listened. 

" Where is the Queen of the Groves ? " Roffredo, a dissolute 
youth, questioned his neighbour, who divided his attention 
between the fair nymph by his side and the goblet which 
trembled in his hands. 

" Silence ! " replied the personage to whom the young 
noble had addressed himself, with a meaning glance. 

Roffredo and the girl by his side glanced in the direction 
indicated by the speaker. 

" Benilo," replied the Patrician. " Is he responsible for 
Theodora s absence ? " 

Oliverotto uttered a coarse laugh. 

Then he added with a meaning glance: 

" I will enlighten you at some other time. But is it true 
that you have rescued some errant damsel from Vitelozzo s 
clutches ? Why do you not gladden our eyes with so chaste a 
morsel ? " 

Roffredo shrugged his shoulders. 

" Who knows, whether it was the vulture s first visit to the 
dove s nest ? " he replied with a disgusting smile. " Tis not 
a matter of much consequence." 

Benilo heard the lie and the empty boast. He hated the 
prating youth for reasons of his own, but cared not to inter 
fere at this stage, unconscious that his presence had been 
remarked. 

" Is she fair ? " questioned the girl by Roffredo s side. 

" Some might call her so," replied the latter. 

The girl pouted and raised the goblet to her lips. 

" Reveal her name to us ! " croaked Bembo, who, though 
at some distance, had heard every word of the discourse. 
" And I will forthwith dedicate to her five and twenty stanzas 
on her virtue ! " 

" Who spoke the fatal word ? " laughed Roxane, who 
presided over the circle. " What is amusing you so much, 

44 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

you ancient wine-cask? " She then turned to the poet, whose 
rather prosaic circumference well justified the epithet. 

" The old theme women ! " croaked Bembo good- 
humouredly. 

"Forget it!" shouted Roffredo, draining his goblet. 
" Rather than listen to your tirades, they would grasp the 
red hot hand of the devil." 

" Ah ! We live in a sorry age and it behooves us to think 
of the end," Roxane sighed with a mock air of contrition, 
which called forth a general outburst of mirth. 

" You are the very one to ponder over the most convenient 
mode of exit into the beyond," sneered the Lord of Gravina. 

" What have we here ? " rasped Bembo. " Who dares to 
speak of death in this assembly ? " 

" Nay, we would rather postpone the option till it finds us 
face to face with that villainous concoction you served us, 
to make us forget your more villainous poetry," shouted 
Oliverotto, hobbling across the hall and slapping the poet on 
the back. " I knew not that Roman soil produced so vile 
vintage ! " 

" Twas Lacrymae Christi," remonstrated Bembo. " Would 
you have Ambrosia with every epigram on your vileness ? " 

" Nay, it was Satan s own brew," shrieked the baron, his 
voice strident as that of a cat, which has swallowed a fish 
bone. 

And Oliverotto clinked his goblet and cast amorous glances 
right and left out of small watery eyes. 

Bembo regarded him contemptuously. 

" By the Cross ! You are touched up and painted like a 
wench! Everything about you is false, even to your wit! 
Beware, fair Roxane, he is ogling you as a bullfrog does the 
stars ! " 

At this stage an intermezzo interrupted the light, bantering 
tone of conversation. A curtain in the background parted. A 

45 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

bevy of black haired girls entered the hall, dressed in airy 
gowns, which revealed every line, every motion of their bodies. 
They encircled the guests in a mad whirl, inclining themselves 
first to one, then to the other. They were led by one, garbed 
as Diana, with the crescent moon upon her forehead, her black 
hair streaming about the whiteness of her statuesque body like 
dark sea-waves caressing marble cliffs. Taking advantage of 
this stage of the entertainment Benilo crossed the vast hall un 
noticed and sat apart from the revellers in gloomy silence, 
listening with ill-concealed annoyance to the shouts of laughter 
and the clatter of irritating tongues. The characteristic wanton 
ness of his features had at this moment given place to a look 
of weariness and suffering, a seemingly unaccustomed expres 
sion; it was a look of longing, the craving of a passion un 
satisfied, a hope beyond his hope. Many envied him for his 
fame and profligacy, others read in his face the stamp of sul 
len cruelty, which vented itself wherever resistance seemed 
useless; but there was none to sound his present mood. 

Benilo had not been at his chosen spot very long, when some 
one touched him on the shoulder. Looking up, he found 
himself face to face with an individual, wrapt in a long mantle, 
the colour of which was a curious mixture of purple and brown. 
His face was shaded by a conical hat, a quaint combination 
of Byzantine helmet and Norse head-gear, being provided 
with a straight, sloping brim, which made it impossible to 
scrutinize his features. This personage was Hezilo, a wander 
ing minstrel seemingly hailing from nowhere. At least no 
one had penetrated the mystery which enshrouded him. 

" Are you alone insensible to the charms of these? " And 
Benilo s interlocutor pointed to the whirling groups. 

" I was thinking of one who is absent," Benilo replied, 
relapsing into his former listless attitude. 

" Why not pluck the flowers that grow in your path, waiting 
but your will and pleasure? " 

46 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

Benilo clenched his hands till the nails were buried in the 
flesh. 

" Have you ever heard of an Eastern drug, which mirrors 
Paradise before your senses ? " 

Hezilo shook his head. " What of it ? " 

" He who becomes its victim is doomed irretrievably. 
While under its baleful spell, he is happy. Deprive him of 
it and the horrors of hell are upon him. No rest! No peace! 
And like the fiend addicted to the drug is the thrice accursed 
wretch who loves Theodora." 

Hezilo regarded the Chamberlain strangely. 

" Benilo deploring the inconstancy of woman," he said 
with noiseless laugh. Then, beckoning to one of the attend 
ants, he took from the salver thus offered to him a goblet, 
which he filled with the dark crimson wine. 

" Drink and forget," he cried. " You will find it even better 
than your Eastern drug." 

Benilo shook his head and pushed away the proffered 
wine. 

" Your advice comes too late! " 

For a moment neither spoke. Benilo, busied with his own 
thoughts, sat listening to the boisterous clamour of the revellers, 
while the harper s gaze rested unseen upon him. 

After a pause he broke the silence. 

" How chanced it," he said, placing his hand affectionately 
on the other s shoulder, " that Benilo, who has broken all 
ten commandments and, withal, hearts untold, Benilo, who 
could have at his feet every woman in Rome, became woman s 
prey, her abject slave? That he is grovelling in the dust, where 
he might be lord and master? That he whines and whimpers, 
where he should command? " 

Benilo turned fiercely upon his interlocutor. 

" Who dares say that I whine and whimper and grovel at 
her feet? Fools alll On a mountain pass the trip is easier 

47 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

down than up! Know you what it means to love a woman 
with mad consuming passion, but to be cast aside for some 
blatant ass, to catch a few crumbs of favour tossed in one s 
face? Men like that rhyming zebra Bembo, who sings of love, 
which he has never felt." 

" Still you have not answered my question," said the harper 
with quiet persistence. " Why are you the slave where you 
should be the master? Theodora is whimsical, heartless, 
cruel; still she is a woman." 

" She is a devil, a heartless beautiful devil who grinds the 
hearts of men beneath her feet and laughs. Sometimes she 
taunts me till I could strangle her ah ! But I placed myself 
in the demon s power and having myself broken the compact 
which bound me to her, body and soul from the lord I 
was, I have sunk to the slave I am, you see, I speak free 
from the heart, what little she has left of it." 

The harper nodded. 

" Why not leave Rome for a time? " he said. " Your 
absence might soften Theodora s heart. Your sins, whatever 
they were, will appear less glaring in the haze of the 
distance." 

Benilo looked up like an infuriated tiger. 

" Has she appointed you my guardian? " he laughed 
harshly. 

" I have had no words with her," replied the harper. " But 
one with eyes to see, cannot help but sound your ailment." 

The Chamberlain relaxed. 

" The drug is in the blood," he replied wearily. 

" Then win her back, if you can," said the harper. 

Benilo clenched his hands while he glared up at the other. 
"It is a game between the devil and despair, and the devil 
has the deal." 

" A losing game for you, should either win." 

Benilo nodded. 

48 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

" I know it! Yet one single word would make me master 
where I am the slave." 

" And you waver? " 

" Silence! " growled Benilo. " Tempt me no more! " 

Their discourse at this point was rudely interrupted by 
the clamour of the guests, bent upon silencing Bembo s exuber 
ance, whose tongue, like a ribbon in the wind, fluttered inces 
santly. He bore himself with the airs of some orator of 
antiquity, rolling his eyes until they showed the whites beneath, 
and beating the air with his short, chubby arms. 

" If Bembo is to be believed there is not in all Rome one faith 
ful wife nor one innocent girl," roared the lord of Bracciano, 
a burly noble who was balancing a dainty dancer on his knee, 
while she held his faun-like head encircled with her arms. 

" Pah! " cried Guido da Fermo, a baron whose chief merit 
consisted in infesting the roads in the Patrimony of St. Peter. 
" There are some, but they are scarce, remarkably scarce ! " 

" Make your wants known at the street corners," exclaimed 
Roffredo, taking the cue. " And I wager our fair Queen would 
be the first to claim the prize." 

And the young Patrician whose face revealed traces of 
grossest debauchery gazed defiantly round the hall, as if 
challenging some one to take up the gauntlet, if he dared. 

" Be careful ! " whispered the girl Nelida, his companion. 
" Benilo is looking at you! " 

Roffredo laughed boisterously. 

" Theodora s discarded lover? Why should I muffle my 
speech to please his ear? " 

The girl laughed nervously. 

" Because the tongue of a fool, when long enough, is a 
rope to hang him by, and he loves her still! " 

" He loves her still," drawled the half -intoxicated Patrician, 
turning his head toward the spot where Benilo sat listening 
with flaming eyes. " The impudence ! " 

49 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

And he staggered to his feet, holding aloft the goblet with 
one hand, while the other encircled the body of the dancing 
girl, who tried in vain to silence him. 

" Fill your goblets," he shouted, " fill your goblets full 
to the brim." 

He glanced round the hall with insolent bravado, while 
Benilo, who had not lost a word the other had spoken, leaned 
forward, his thin lips straightening in a hard white line, 
while his narrowing eyelids and his trembling hands attested 
his pent up ire louder than words. 

" A toast to the absent," shrieked Roffredo. " A toast to 
the most beautiful and the most virtuous woman in Rome, a 
toast to " 

He paused for an instant, for a white-cheeked face close 
to his, whispered: 

" Stop ! On your life be silent ! " 

But Roffredo paid no heed. 

He whirled the crystal goblet round his head, spilling some 
of the contents over the girl, who shrank from it, as from 
an evil omen. The purple Chianti looked like blood on her 
white skin. 

" To Theodora! " shouted the drunken youth, as all except 
Benilo raised their goblets to join hi the toast. " To Theodora, 
the Wanton Queen, whose eyes are aglow with hell s hot 
fire, whose scarlet lips would kiss the fiend, whose splendid 
arms would embrace the devil, were he passing fair to look 
upon ! " 

He came no further. 

" May lightning strike you in your tracks ! " Benilo howled, 
insane with long suppressed rage, as he hurled a heavy de 
canter he had snatched from the board, at the head of the 
offender. 

A shrill outcry, dying away into a moan, then into silence, 
the crash of broken flagons, a lifeless form gliding from his 

50 



WANTON COURT OF THEODORA 

paralyzed arms to the floor, roused Roffredo to the reality of 
what had happened. The heavy decanter having missed its 
aim, had struck the girl Nelida squarely in the forehead, and 
the dark stream of blood which flowed over her eyes, her face, 
her neck, down her arms, her airy gown, mingled with the purple 
wine from the Patrician s spilled goblet. 

It was a ghastly sight. In an instant pandemonium reigned 
in the hall. The painted women shrieked and rushed for 
safety behind columns and divans, leaving the men to 
care for the dying girl, whom Bembo and Oliverotto tenderly 
lifted to a divan, where the former bandaged the terribly 
gashed head. 

While he did so the poor dancing girl breathed her 
last. 

The awful sight had effectually sobered Benilo. For a mo 
ment the drunken noble stared as one petrified on the deed he 
had wrought, then the sharp blade of his poniard hissed from 
its scabbard and with a half smothered outcry of fury he 
flew at Roffredo s throat. 

"This is your deed, you lying cur! " he snarled into the 
trembling youth s face, whom the catastrophe had completely 
unnerved and changed into a blanched coward. " Retract 
your lying boast or I ll send you to hell ere you can utter a 
Pater-Noster! " 

With the unbounded fury of a maniac who has broken 
his chains and against whose rage no mortal strength may 
cope, Benilo brought Roffredo down on the floor, where he 
knelt on his breast, holding his throat in a vice-like grip, 
which choked any words the prostrate youth might endeavour 
to speak. 

The terror of the deed, which had cast its pall over the 
merry revellers, and the suddenness of the attack on Roffredo 
had so completely paralyzed those present, that none came to 
the rescue of the prostrate man, who vainly struggled to extri- 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

cate himself from his opponent s clutches. His eyes ablaze 
with rage, Benilo had set the point of his dagger against the 
chest of his victim, whom now no power on earth seemed 
able to save, as his cowardly associates made no effort to stay 
the Chamberlain s hand. 

He who had seen Benilo, in the palace on the Aventine, 
composing an ode in the hall of audience, would have been 
staggered at the complete transformation from a diplomatic 
courtier to a fiend incarnate, his usually sedate features dis 
torted with mad passion and rage. A half-choked outcry of 
brute fear and despair failed to bring any one to the prostrate 
boaster s aid, most of those present, including the women, 
thronging round the dead girl Nelida, and Roff redo s fate seemed 
sealed. But at that moment, something happened to stay 
Benilo s uplifted hand. 



CHAPTER V 



THE WAGER 




T the moment when Benilo had 
raised his poniard, to drive it 
through his opponent s heart, the 
diaphanous curtains dividing the 
great hall from the rest of the 
buildings were flung aside and 
hi the entrance there appeared 
a woman like some fierce and 
majestic fury, who at a 
moment s glance took in the 
whole scene and its import. Her manner was that 
of a queen, of a queen who was wont to bend all men to her 
slightest caprice. Every eye hi the large hall was bent upon 
her and every soul felt a thrill of wonder and admiration. 
The ivory pallor of her face was enhanced by the dark gloss 
of her raven hair. The slumbrous starry eyes were meant to 
hold the memories of a thousand love-thoughts. A dim 
suffused radiance seemed to hover like an aureole above her 
dazzling white brow, crowning the perfect oval of her face, 
adorned with a clustering wealth of raven-black tresses. 
She was arrayed in a black, silk-embroidered diaphanous 
robe, the most sumptuous the art of the Orient could supply. 
Of softest texture, it revealed the matchless contours of her 
form and arms, of her regal throat, heightening by the con 
trast the ivory sheen of her satin-skrn. 

But those eyes which, when kindled with the fires of love, 
might have set marble aflame, were blazing with the torches of 

53 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

wrath, as looking round the hall, she darted a swift inquiring 
glance at the chief offenders, one of whom could not have 
spoken had he wished to, for Benilo was fairly strangling him. 

The rest of the company had instinctively turned their faces 
towards the Queen of the Groves, endeavouring at the same 
time to hide the sight of the dead girl from her eyes by closely 
surrounding the couch, with their backs to the victim. But 
their consternation as well as the very act betrayed them. 
From the struggling men on the floor, Theodora s gaze turned 
to the affrighted company and she hah* guessed the truth. 
Advancing towards her guests, she pushed their unresisting 
forms aside, raised the cover from the dead girl with the 
bloody bandage over the still white face, bent over it quickly 
to kiss the dark, silken hair, then she demanded an account of 
the deed. One of the women reported in brief and concise 
terms what had happened before she arrived. At the sight of 
this flower, broken and destroyed, Theodora s anger seemed for 
a moment to subside, like a trampled spark, before a great pity 
that rose in her heart. In an instant the whole company 
rushed upon her with excited gestures and before the Babel of 
jabbering tongues, each striving to tell his or her story in a 
voice above the rest, the Fury returned. 

Theodora stamped her foot and commanded silence. At the 
sight of the woman, Benilo s arms had fallen powerlessly by his 
side and Roffredo, taking advantage of an unwatched moment, 
had pushed the Chamberlain off and staggered to his feet. 

" Whose deed is this? " Theodora demanded, holding aloft 
the covering of the couch. 

" It was my accursed luck ! The decanter was intended for 
this lying cur, whose black heart I will wrench out of his 
body!" 

And Benilo pointed to the shrinking form of Roffredo. 

" What had he done? " 

" He had insulted you ! " 

54 



THE WAGER 

" That proves his courage ! " she replied with a withering 
glance of contempt. 

Then she beckoned to the attendants. 

" Have the girl removed and summon the Greek though 
I fear it is too late." 

There was a ring of regret in her tones. It vanished as 
quickly as it had come. 

The body of Nelida, the dancing girl, was carried away 
and the guests resumed their seats. Roxane had reluctantly 
abandoned her usurped place of honour. A quick flash, a 
silent challenge passed between the two women, as Theodora 
took her accustomed seat. 

" A glass of wine ! " she commanded imperiously, and 
Roffredo, reassured, rushed to the nearest attendant, took a 
goblet from the salver and presented it to the Queen of the 
Groves. 

"Ah! Thanks, Roffredo! So it was you who insulted me 
in my absence? " she said with an undertone of irony in 
her voice, which had the rich sound of a deep-toned bell. 

" I said you would embrace the devil, did he but appear 
in presentable countenance ! " Roffredo replied contritely, 
but with a vicious side glance at Benilo. 

An ominous smile curved Theodora s crimson lips. 

" The risk would be slight, since I have kept company with 
each of you," she replied. " And our virtuous Benilo took 
up the gauntlet ? " 

Her low voice was soft and purring, yet laden with the 
poison sting of irony, as through half -closed lids she glanced 
towards the Chamberlain, who sat apart in moody silence like 
a spectre at the feast. 

Benilo scented danger in her tone and answered cautiously : 

" Only a coward will hear the woman he loves reviled with 
impunity." 

Theodora bowed with mock courtesy, 

55 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" If you wish to honour me with this confession, I care as 
little for the one as the other. From your temper I judge 
some innocent dove had escaped your vulture s talons." 

Benilo met the challenge in her smouldering look and 
answered with assumed indifference: 

" Your spies have misinformed you ! But I am in no mood 
to constitute the target of your jests! " 

" There is but one will which rules these halls," Theodora 
flashed out. " If obedience to its mandates is distasteful to 
you, the gates are open spread your pinions and fly away! " 

She flung back her head and their eyes met. 

Benilo turned away, uttering a terrible curse between his 
clenched teeth. 

There was a deep hush in the hall, as if the spirit of the 
dead girl was haunting the guests. The harps played a plaintive 
melody, which might indeed have stolen from some hearth 
of ashes, when stirred by the breath of its smouldering spark, 
like phantom-memories from another world, that seemed to 
call to Theodora s inner consciousness, each note a foot-step, 
leading her away beyond the glint and glitter of the world 
that surrounded her, to a garden of purity and peace in the 
dim, long-forgotten past. Theodora sat in a reverie, her 
strange eyes fixed on nothingness, her red lips parted, disclosing 
two rows of teeth, small, even, pearly, while her full, white 
bosom rose and fell with quickened respiration. 

" The Queen of the Groves is in a pensive mood to-night," 
sneered the Lord of Bracciano, who had been engaged in 
mentally weighing her charms against those of Roxane". 

Theodora sighed. 

" I may well be pensive, for I have seen to-day, what I 
had despaired of ever again beholding in Rome can you 
guess what it is? " 

Shouts of laughter broke, a jarring discord, harshly upon 
her speech. 

56 



THE WAGER 

" We are perishing with curiosity," shouted, as with one 
voice, the debauched nobles and their feminine companions. 

" In the name of pity, save our lives ! " begged a girl nearest 
to Theodora s seat. 

" Can you guess? " the Queen of the Groves repeated 
simply, as she gazed round the assembly. 

All sorts of strange answers were hurled at the throne of 
the Queen of the Groves. She heeded them not. Perhaps 
she did not even hear them. 

At last she raised her head. 

Without commenting on the guesses of her guests, she 
said: 

" I have seen in Rome to-day a man! " 

Benilo squirmed. The rest of the guests laughed harshly 
and Bembo, the Poet asked with a vapid grin: 

" And is the sight so wondrous that the Queen of Love sits 
dreaming among her admirers like a Sphinx in the African 
desert? " 

" Had he horns? " shouted the Lord of Bracciano. 

" Or a cloven hoof? " cried Oliverotto. 

" What was he like? " sneered a third. 

Theodora turned upon her questioners, a dash of scorn in 
her barbed reply. 

" I speak of a man, not reptiles like you you all! " 

" Mercy, oh queen, mercy ! " begged the apoplectic poet, 
amid the noisy clamour of his jeering companions. But 
heedless of their jabbering tongues Theodora continued ear 
nestly : 

" Not such men as the barons of Rome are pleased to call 
themselves, cowardly, vicious, beasts, who believe not in 
God nor the devil, and whose aim in life is but to clothe their 
filthy carcass in gaudy apparel and appease the cravings of 
their lust and their greed! I speak of a man, something the 
meaning of which is as dark to you as the riddle of the Sphinx." 

57 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

The company gazed at each other in mute bewilderment. 

Theodora was indeed in a most singular mood. 

" Are we not at the Court of Theodora? " shouted the Lord 
of Bracciano, who was experiencing some inconvenience in 
the feat of embracing with his short arms the two women 
between whom he was seated. " Or has some sudden magic 
transported us to the hermitage of the mad monk, who pre 
dicts the End of Time? " 

" Nay," Benilo spoke up for the first time since Theodora s 
rebuke had silenced him, " perhaps our beautiful Queen of 
Love has in store for her guests just such a riddle as the one 
the Sphinx proposed to the son of lokaste with but a slight 
variation." 

The illiterate high-born rabble of Rome did not catch the 
drift of the Patrician s speech, but the pallor on Theodora s 
cheeks deepened. 

Roxane* alone turned to the speaker. 

" And the simile? " she asked in her sweet siren-voice, 
tremulous with the desire to clash with her more beautiful 
rival. 

Benilo shrugged his shoulders, but he winced under Theo 
dora s deadly gaze. 

" The simile? " he replied with a jarring laugh. " It is this, 
that incest and adultery are as old as the Athenian asses, that 
never died, and that the Sphinx eventually drowned herself 
in the Aegean Sea." 

Theodora made no reply, but relapsed into her former state 
of thoughtfulness. As she turned from Benilo, her eyes met 
those of Roxane", and again the two women flashed defiance 
at each other. 

Again the laughter of the revellers rose, louder than before. 

" By the Cross," shouted the poet, " the Queen of Love will 
take the veil." 

" Has she chosen the convent, whose nuns she will cause 

58 



THE WAGER 

to be canonized by her exemplary life and glorious example," 
jeered Roxane. 

" We shall sing a thousand Aves and buy tapers as 
large as her unimpeached virtue ! " cried another of the 
women. 

" I fear one nunnery is damned from chapel to refec 
tory," growled Benilo, keeping his eyes on the floor, as if 
fearful of meeting those he instinctively felt burning upon him. 

"Silence! " cried Theodora at last, stamping her foot on 
the floor, while a glow of hot resentment flushed her cheeks. 
" Your merriment and clamour only draws the sharper line 
between you and that other, of whom I spoke." 

Roffredo looked up with a smile of indolence. 

" And who is the demi-god? " he drawled lazily. 

She measured him with undisguised scorn and contempt. 

" The name ! The story ! " bellowed several individuals, 
raising their goblets and half spilling their contents in their 
besotten mood. 

In a strange voice, melodious as the sound of Aeolian harps 
when the night wind passes over their strings, amid profound 
silence Theodora related to her assembled guests the incident 
of the runaway steeds in which she had so prominently figured, 
the chariot having been her own, the occupant herself. 
She omitted not a detail of the stranger s heroic deed, passing 
from her own thrilling experience to Vitelozzo s assault upon 
one of the New Vestals, and his discomfiture at the hand of him 
who had saved her life. 

" And while your Roman scum hissed and hooted and 
raised not a finger in the girl s defence, her rescuer alone 
braved Vitelozzo s fury I saw him whisper something into 
the ruffian s ear and the mighty lord skulked away like a fright 
ened cur. By heaven, I have seen a man ! " the Queen of the 
Groves concluded ecstatically, disdaining to dwell on her own 
rescue. 

59 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

For a lingering moment there hovered silence on the as 
sembly. Gradually it gave way to a flutter of questions. 

" Who is he? " queried one. 

" What is he like? " shouted another. 

Theodora did not heed the questions. Only her lovely face, 
framed by hair dark as the darkest midnight, had grown a 
shade more pale and pensive. 

Suddenly she turned to the last questioner, a woman. 

" What was he like? " she replied. " Tall, and in the prime 
of manhood ; his face concealed by his vizor." 

The woman sighed amorously. The men nodded to each 
other with meaning glances. The danger of the convent 
seemed passed. 

Benilo, who during Theodora s narrative had proven an 
ideal listener, of a sudden clenched his fist and gazed round 
for the harper, who sat in a remote corner of the hall. 

Another moment s musing, then the Chamberlain ground 
his teeth together with the fierce determination to carry out 
at all hazards, what he had resolved in his mind. Theodora 
herself was playing into his hands. 

" Do you know this incomparable hero, this modern 
Theseus? " he drawled out slowly and with deliberate im 
pudence, addressing the Queen of the Groves. 

Theodora s gaze was sharp as steel. 

" What is it to you? " she hissed. 

Benilo shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. 

" Nothing whatever! I also know him! " 

There was something in his tone, which struck the ever- 
watchful ear of Theodora like a danger-knell. 

" You know him ? " echoed a chorus of voices from every 
part of the great hall. 

He waved back the eager questioners. 

"I know him!" he declared emphatically, then he was 
silent. 

60 



THE WAGER 

Theodora seemed to have grown nervous. 

" Are you serious? " 

"Never more so!" Benilo replied, with a slight peculiar 
hardening of the lips. 

" Is he a Roman? " cried a voice. 

" All Romans according to our fair Queen s judgment, are 
curs and degenerates," Benilo drawled insultingly. 

Theodora nodded. 

" Even so," she replied coldly. 

" This demi-god, however, is also slightly known to you," 
the Chamberlain continued, now fairly facing the Queen of 
Love, " even though he has not yet found his way to your 
bowers." 

Theodora winced. 

" Why do you taunt me? " she flashed back angrily. 

Benilo heeded her not. Instead of replying, he addressed 
himself to the company, speaking in a dry, half-bantering 
tone, while Theodora watched him like a tigress. 

" Once upon a time, the Queen of Love boasted that mortal 
man did not breathe who would resist her charms. Now 
there is at this hour one man here in Rome, whom even the 
matchless Theodora dare not summon to her circle, one man 
before whose No her vain-glorious boast would break like 
a bubble, one man whose soul she may not sap and send to 
hell ! And this one man is even the hero of her dreams, her res 
cuer, the rescuer of a maiden of spotless virtue, the van 
quisher of a giant ! Do I speak truth, divine Theodora? " 

Those who watched the expression on the face of the Queen 
of the Groves marvelled alike at Benilo s audacity and the 
startling absence of a passionate outburst on the part of the 
woman. And though the blood seethed through Theodora s 
veins, the sudden change of front on Benilo s part seemed to 
stagger her for a moment. It was a novel sensation to see the 
man who had heretofore been like clay in the moulder s hands 

61 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

now daring to flout her openly and to hold up her wounded 
pride as a target for the jests of those present. It was a novel 
sensation, to find herself publicly berated, but the shaft sank 
deep. Theodora s eyes flashed scorn and there was some 
thing cruel in her glances. Benilo felt its sting like a whip 
lash. His nerves quivered and he breathed hard. But he 
had gone too far to recede. His spirit had risen hi arms 
against the disdain of the woman he loved, loved with a 
passion that seemed to have slept in a tomb for ages and sud 
denly gathered new strength, like a fire kindled anew over dead 
ashes. 

Acting on a sudden impulse, he raised his head and looked 
at her with a fearlessness which for the moment appeared to 
startle her self-possession, for a deep flush coloured the fairness 
of her face and, fading, left it pale as marble. Still Theodora 
did not speak and the breathless silence which had succeeded 
Benilo s last taunt resembled the ominous hush of the heated 
atmosphere before a thunder-clap. No one dared speak and 
the Chamberlain, apparently struck by the sudden stillness, 
looked round from the tumbled cushions where he 
reclined. 

" You do not answer my question, fair Theodora," he 
spoke at last, an undertone of mockery ringing through his 
speech. " I grant you power over some weak fools," and 
Benilo glanced round the assembly, little caring for the mutter 
which his words raised, " but you will at least admit that there 
is one man hi Rome at this very hour, on whom all your charms 
and blandishments would be wasted as a caress on cold 
marble." 

Another deep and death-like pause ensued ; then Theodora s 
silvery cold tones smote the profound silence with sharp 
retort, as goaded at last beyond forbearance by his scoffing 
tone she sprang to her feet. 

" There is not a man in Rome," she hissed into Benilo s 

62 



THE WAGER 

face, " not in Italy, not in all the world, whom I could not 
bend to the force of my will. Where I choose, I conquer! " 

A sardonic laugh broke from Benilo s lips. 

" And by what means? " 

" Benilo," she flashed forth in withering contempt, " I 
know not what your object is in taunting me and I care 
not but by Lucifer, you go too far ! Name to me a man in 
Rome, name whom you will, and if I fail to win him in one 
month " 

" What then? " 

For a moment she hesitated. 

" Name the wager yourself! " 

An ominous smile curved Benilo s lips. 

" All the wealth I possess against you as my wife ! " 

She laughed scornfully and shuddered, but did not reply. 

" Are you afraid? " he cried, tauntingly. 

" What a fate! " she replied with trepidation in her tone. 
" But I accept it, even it! " 

She turned her back on him after a look of such withering 
contempt as one might cast on some reptile, and took her former 
seat, when again she was startled by his voice. Its mock 
caressing tones caused her to clench her firm white hands 
and bend forward as if tempted to strangle the viper, that had 
dared to place its glitter x^g coils in her path. 

" It now remains but to name the champion, just to prevent 
the wrong bird from fluttering into the nest," said Benilo, 
addressing the company. 

" The champion! The champion! " they shouted, breathing 
more freely, since the expected lightning did not strike. 

"Fill the goblets!" Benilo exclaimed, and in a moment 
the wine was poured, the guests arose and gathered round the 
central figures. 

Benilo raised his goblet and turned to Theodora, wincing 
under her look of contempt. 

63 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" The champion is to be my choice and to be accepted 
unconditionally? " he questioned. 

" Not so ! " she flashed forth, hah 1 rising from her seat, 
her eyes flaming with wrath. " I would not have my words 
distorted by so foul a thing as you ! It is to be the rescuer of 
the girl, he before whom the lord Vitelozzo slunk away like 
a whipped cur! You have taunted me with my lack of power 
face to face with that one and that one alone, the 
only man among a crowd of curs! " 

Benilo paused, then he said with a hard, cold smile : 

" Agreed ! " And he placed the goblet to his lips. The 
guests did likewise and drank the singular toast, as if it had 
not implied a glaring insult to each present, including the one 
who reechoed it. 

"And now for his name!" Benilo continued. "Just to 
prevent a mischance." 

The irony of his words and the implied insult cut Theodora 
to the quick. With hands tightly clenched as if she would 
strangle her tormentor, she sprang to her feet. 

" I object! " she gasped, almost choked with rage, while her 
startled listeners seemed to lack even voice to vent their 
curiosity before this new and unexpected outburst. 

" I appeal to the company assembled, who has witnessed 
the wager between the Queen of Love and her faithful and 
obedient lover," Benilo sneered, looking round among the 
guests. " How know we, what is concealed under a vizor, be 
neath a rusty suit of armour? Security lies but in the name of 
the unconscious victim of Theodora s magic, is it not so? " 

The smile on the Chamberlain s countenance caused him to 
appear more repulsive than his former expression of wildest 
rage. But, prompted by an invincible curiosity, the guests 
unanimously assented. 

" Be it so ! " gasped Theodora, sinking back in her seat. 
" I care not." 

64 



THE WAGER 

Benilo watched her closely, and as he did so he almost 
repented of his hasty wager. Just at that moment his gaze 
met that of the harper, who stood like some dark phantom 
behind the throne of the Queen of the Groves, and the Chamber 
lain stifled the misgivings, which had risen within him. And 
though smiling hi anticipation of the blow he was about to 
deliver, a blow which should prove the sweetest balm for the 
misery she had caused him by her disdain, he still wavered, 
as if to torment her to the extremest limits. Then, with a 
voice audible in the remotest parts of the great hall, he spoke, 
his eye in that of Theodora, slowly emphasizing each title 
and name: 

" Margrave Eckhardt of Meissen, Commander-in-chief of 
the German hosts! " 

There was the silence of death in the hall. 

For a moment Theodora stared fixed and immobile as a 
marble statue, her face pale as death, while a thin stream of 
purple wine, spilled from her trembling goblet, trickled down 
her white, uplifted arm. Then she rushed upon him, and 
knocking the goblet out of his hand, causing it to fall with a 
splintering crash at Benilo s feet, she shrieked till the very walls 
re-echoed the words: 

"You lie! You lie!" 

Benilo crossed his arms over his chest, and, looking squarely 
into the woman s eyes, he repeated in the same accents of 
defiance : 

" Margrave Eckhardt of Meissen, Commander-in-chief of 
the German hosts." 

" Again I tell you you lie! You lie! " shrieked the woman, 
now almost beside herself. " Is there no one among all this 
scum here assembled, to chastise this viper? Hear me! " she 
cried as, affrighted, the guests shrank back from her blazing 
eyes and panting breath, while with all the superhuman 
beauty of a second Medusa she stood among them, and if her 

65 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

gaze could have killed, none would have survived the hour. 
" Hear me! Benilo has lied to you, as time and again he has 
lied to me ! He, of whom he speaks, is dead, has died 
long ago ! " 

Benilo breathed hard. " Then he has arisen from the dead 
and returned to earth, to Rome " he spoke with biting 
irony in his tones. " A strange hereditary disease affecting 
the members of his house." 

When he saw the deadly pallor which covered the woman s 
face, and the terror reflected in her eyes, Benilo continued : 

" And deem you hi all truth, sagacious Theodora, that 
a word from the lips of any other man would have caused 
Vitelozzo to release his prey? Deem you not in your undoubted 
wisdom that it required a reason, even weightier than the blow 
of a gauntleted hand, to accomplish this marvellous feat? 
And, since you are dumb hi the face of these arguments, 
will you not enlighten us all why Theodora, the beautiful, the 
chaste, would deprive him of the plume, to whom it rightfully 
belongs, the German commander, Margrave Eckhardt of 
Meissen, who risked his life to save that of our beautiful 
queen? " 

Theodora turned upon her tormenter like an animal at bay. 

" I have heard enough ! I will not ! The wager is off ! " 

And rising she prepared to leave the hall without another 
word. 

It would have been difficult for the most profound physiog 
nomist to analyze Benilo s feelings, when he saw his purpose, 
his revenge, foiled. Looking up he met the enigmatic gaze of 
the harper resting upon him with a strange mixture of derision 
and disdain. 

" Stay ! " Benilo cried to Theodora as she grasped the cur 
tain in the act of pushing it aside. He knew if she passed 
beyond it, he had lost beyond retrieve. But she paused and 
turned, mute inquiry and defiance in her look. 

66 



THE WAGER 

" The Queen of the Groves has made a wager before you 
all," the Chamberlain shouted, lashing himself into the rage 
needful to make him carry out his design unflinchingly. 
" After being informed of the person of the champion she has 
repudiated it ! The reasons are plain, the champion is 
beyond her reach! The Queen of the Groves is too politic to 
play a losing game, especially when she knows that she is sure 
to lose! The charms of our Goddess are great, but alas! 
There is one man in Rome whom she dare not challenge ! " 

He paused to study the effect of his words upon her. 

She regarded him with her icy stare. 

" It is not a question of power but of my will ! " 

"So be it!" retorted Benilo. "But since the Queen of 
Love has refused my wager for reasons no doubt good and 
efficient, perhaps there is in this company one less pure, one 
less scrupulous, one of beauty as great, who might win, where 
Theodora shuns the risk! Will you take up the gauntlet, 
fair Roxane", and lure to the Groves, Eckhardt, the general ? " 

" Benilo beware ! " 

Shrill, sharp like breaking glass, like the cry of a wounded 
animal maddened with rage and agony, the outcry seemed 
wrenched from Theodora s white, drawn lips. Her large, 
splendid eyes flashed unutterable scorn upon the Chamberlain 
and her lithe form swayed and crouched as that of a tigress 
about to spring. 

" Will Roxane" take the wager? " Benilo repeated defiantly. 

The anticipation of the on-coming contest caused Roxane^s 
cheek to blanch. But not to be thought deficient in courage, 
to meet her rival, she replied: 

" Since the Queen of the Groves shuns the test, perhaps I 
might succeed, where " 

She did not finish the sentence. 

Like a lightning flash Theodora turned from the man, who 
had roused her ire, to the woman who had stung her pride 

67 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

with ill-veiled mockery, and while she slowly crept towards 
her opponent, her low voice, tremulous with scorn, stung as 
a needle would the naked flesh. 

" And do you dream that Eckhardt of Meissen has aught 
to fear from you, fair Roxane? Deem you, that the proud 
Roxane with all her charms, could cause the general of the 
German host to make one step against his will? " 

For a moment the two women stood face to face, measuring 
each other with deadly looks. 

" And what if I would? " flashed Roxane". 

Two white hands slowly but firmly encircled her throat. 

" I would strangle you! " hissed Theodora, her face deadly 
pale. 

Roxane s cheeks too had lost their colour. She knew her 
opponent and she instinctively felt she had reached the limit. 
She gave a little nervous laugh as she drew Theodora s reluctant 
hands from the marble whiteness of her throat, where their 
touch had left a rosy imprint. 

" I do not wish your Saxon bear," she said. " If you can 
tame him, we come to his skin ! " 

" By Lucifer! " replied the Queen of the Groves, " did I but 
choose to, I would make him forget heaven and hell and bring 
him to my feet! " 

" How dramatic! " sneered Benilo. " Words are air! We 
want proofs ! " 

She whirled upon him. 

" And what will become of the snake, when the hunter 
appears? " 

Benilo paled. For a moment his arrogance deserted him. 
Then he said with an ominous scowl: 

" Let the hunter beware ! " 

She regarded him with icy contempt. Then she turned to 
the revellers. 

" Since Benilo has dared to cross swords with me," she 

68 



THE WAGER 

cried, " though I despise him and all of you, I accept the chal 
lenge, if there is one in this company who will confirm that it 
was Eckhardt who discomfited Vitelozzo." 

From the background of the hall, where he had sat a silent 
listener, there came forward an individual in the gaudy attire 
of a Roman nobleman. He was robust and above the middle 
height, and the lineaments of his coarse face betrayed pre 
dominance of brute instincts over every nobler sentiment. 

"Vitelozzo! Vitelozzo!" the guests shouted half amazed, 
half amused. 

The robber-baron nodded as he faced Theodora on the edge 
of the circle. 

" I have listened to your discourse," he snarled curtly. 
" For your opinions I care not. And as for the skullion to 
whom I gave in, out of sheer good will, ha, ha! 
may the devil pull the boots from his legs ! twas no meaner 
a person than he, at whose cradle the fiend stood sponsor, 
Eckhardt the general but I will yet have the girl, I ll 
have her yet ! " 

And with a vigorous nod Vitelozzo took up a brimming 
decanter and transported himself into the background whence 
he had arisen. 

His word had decided the question. 

For a moment there was an intense hush. Then Theodora 
spoke : 

" Eckhardt of Meissen, the commander of the German 
hosts, shall come to my court! He shall be as one of your 
selves, a whimpering slave to my evil beauty! I will it, 
and so it shall be ! " 

For a moment she glanced at Benilo and the blood froze 
in his veins. Heaven and earth would he have given now to 
have recalled the fateful challenge. But it was too late. For 
a time he trembled like an aspen. No one knew what he 
had read in Theodora s Medusa-like face. 

69 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Some of the revellers, believing the great tension relieved, 
now pushed eagerly forward, surrounding the Queen of the 
Groves and plying her with questions. They were all eager to 
witness a triumph so difficult to achieve, as they imagined, 
that even Theodora, though conscious of her invincible 
charms, had winced at the task. 

But the Queen of Love seemed to have exchanged the 
attributes of her trade for those of a Fury, for she turned upon 
them like an animal wounded to death, that sees the hounds 
upon its track and cannot escape. 

"Back! All of you!" she hissed, raising her arms and 
sweeping them aside. " What is it after all ? Is he not a 
man, like no ! Not like you, not like you ! Why should 
I care for him? Perhaps he has wife and child at home : 
the devils will laugh the louder! " 

She paused a moment, drawing a deep breath. Then she 
slowly turned towards the cringing Chamberlain. Her voice 
was slow and distinct and every word struck him as the blow 
from a whip. 

" I accept your wager," she said, " and I warn you that I 
will win ! Win, with all the world, with all your villainy, with 
the Devil himself against me. Eckhardt shall come to the 
Groves! But," she continued with terrible distinctness, "if 
aught befall him, ere we have stood face to face, I shall know 
the hand that struck the blow, were it covered by the deepest 
midnight that ever blushed at your foulness, and by the 
devil, I will avenge it ! " 

After these words Theodora faced those assembled with 
her splendid height hi all the glory of her beauty. Another 
moment she was gone. 

For a time deep silence succeeded. 

Never had such a scene been witnessed in the Groves. 
Never had the Queen of Love shown herself in so terrible a 
mood. Never had mortal dared to brave her anger, to challenge 

70 



THE WAGER 

her wrath. Truly, the end of time must be nigh when her 
worshippers would dare defy the Goddess of the Shrine. 

But after Theodora had disappeared, the strain gradually 
relaxed and soon wore away entirely. With all, save Benilo. 
His calm outward demeanour concealed only with an effort his 
terrible apprehensions, as he mixed freely, to divert suspicion, 
with the revellers. These thought the moments too precious 
to waste with idle speculations and soon the orgy roared anew 
through the great hall. 

Benilo alone had retreated to its extreme end, where he 
allowed himself to drop into a divan, which had just been 
deserted by a couple, who had been swept away by the whirling 
Bacchanale. Here he sat for some time, his face buried in 
his hands, when looking up suddenly he found himself face to 
face with Hezilo. 

" I have done it," he muttered, " and I fear I have gone too 
far! " 

He paused, scanning the harper s face for approval. 
Its expression he could not see, but there was no shade of 
reproof in the voice which answered: 

" At best you have but erred in the means." 

" I wished to break her pride, to humble her, and now the 
tables are turned; it is I, who am grovelling in the dust." 

" No woman was by such means ever wooed or won," the 
harper replied after a brief pause. " Theodora will win the 
wager. But whether she win or lose, she will despise you for 
ever more ! " 

Benilo pressed his hands against his burning temples. 

" My heart is on fire ! The woman maddens me with her 
devilish charms, until I am on the verge of delirium." 

" You have been too pliant! You have become her slave! 
Her foot is on your neck ! You have lost yourself ! Better 
a monstrous villain, than a simpering idiot, who whines 
love-ditties under his lady ^ bower and bellows his shams 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

to the enduring stars! Dare to be a man, despite your 
self! " 

So absorbed was Benilo in his own thoughts, that the biting 
irony of the other s speech was lost upon him. 

He extended his hand to his strange counsellor. 

" It shall be as you say : The Rubicon is passed. I have 
no choice." 

The stranger nodded, but he did not touch the proffered 
hand. 

At last the Chamberlain rose to leave the hall. 

The sounds of lutes and harps quivered through the Groves 
of Theodora ; flutes and cymbals, sistrum and tympani mingled 
their harmonies with the tempest of sound that hovered over 
the great orgy, which was now at its height. The banquet- 
hall whirled round him like a vast architectural nightmare. 
Through the dizzy glare he beheld perspectives and seemingly 
endless colonnades. Everything sparkled, glittered, and 
beamed hi the light of prismatic irises, that crossed and shattered 
each other in the air. Viewed through that burning haze even 
the inanimate objects seemed to have waked to some fantastic 
representation of life. But through it all he saw one face, 
supremely fair hi its marble cold disdain, and unable to 
endure the sight longer Benilo the Chamberlain rushed out 
into the open. 

In the distance resounded the chant of pilgrims traversing 
the city and imploring the mercy and clemency of heaven. 



CHAPTER VI 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 




NCE outside of the pavillion, 
Benilo uttered a sigh of relief. 
He had resolved to act without 
delay. Ere dawn he would be 
assured that he held in his 
grasp the threads of the web. 
There was no time to be lost. 
Onward he hurried, the phantom 
of the murdered girl floating 
before his eyes in a purple haze. 
While bearing himself ostensibly in the character of a 
mere man of pleasure, Benilo the Chamberlain lost no 
opportunity of ingratiating himself with the many desperate 
spirits who were to be found in the city ready and 
willing to assist at any enterprise, which should tend to 
complicate the machine of government. While he rushed into 
every extravagance and pleasure, surpassing the companions 
of his own rank in his orgies, he suffered no symptoms of a 
deeper feeling to escape him, than that of excellence in trifling, 
the wine cup, the pageant, the passing show. It may have 
been a strain of mongrel blood, filtering through his veins, 
which tempered his endurance with the pliancy essential to 
intrigue, a strain that was apparent in the sculptured regularity 
of his features. His movements had the pliant ease, the 
stealthy freedom of the tiger. Had he been caught like Milo, 
he would have writhed himself out of the trap with the sinuous 
persistency of the snake. There was something snake-like 

73 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

in the small, glittering eyes, the clear smoothness of the skin. 
With all its brightness no woman worthy of the name but 
would have winced with womanly instincts of aversion and 
repugnance from his glances. With all its beauty, none, 
save Otto alone, had ever looked confidingly into his face. 
Men turned indeed to scan him approvingly as he passed, 
but they owned no sympathy with the smooth, set brow, the 
ever present smile in the lips of Benilo the Chamberlain. 

After deliberating upon the course he was about to pursue 
Benilo approached the shores of the Tiber. Under the cypress 
avenues it was dark, and the air came up chill and damp from 
the stream. A sombre blue over-arched the labyrinth of pillars 
and ruins, of friezes and statues, of groves and glades which 
lay dreaming in the pale light of the moon. No other light, 
save the moist glimmer of the stars whose mist-veiled bright 
ness heralded the approach of a tempest, fell on the chaos of 
undefined forms. Utter solitude, utter silence prevailed. 
More and more Benilo lost himself in the wilderness of this 
ill-favoured region. 

The shortest way to the haunts of John of the Catacombs, 
of whom he was in immediate search, lay across the ancient 
Alta Semita, where now the Via di Porta Pia winds round the 
Quirinal hill. But for reasons of his own the Chamberlain 
chose to make a detour, preferring streets whose deserted 
character would not be likely to bring him into contact with 
some unwelcome, nocturnal rambler. Wrapping himself more 
closely in his cloak and looking cautiously about, he hastened 
along the North Western declivity of the Quirinal hill, until he 
reached the remains of a wall built, so tradition has it, by 
Servius Tullius. This quarter had ever since the time of the 
emperors enjoyed the worst reputation in all Rome. The streets 
were tortuous, the houses, squalid, the whole surroundings 
evil. Benilo moved cautiously along the wall, for a few drink 
ing shops were still open and frequented by a motley throng, 

74 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 

with whom it was not safe to mingle, for to provoke a brawl, 
might engender grave consequences. Wretched women plied 
their shameful trade by the light of flickering clay-lamps; 
and watery-eyed hags, the outcasts of all nations, mingled 
with sailors, bandits and bravi. Drunken men lay snoring 
under tables and coarse songs were shouted from hoarse throats, 
half drowned by the uproarious clamour of two fellows who 
were playing at dice. Suddenly there was a commotion fol 
lowed by piercing shrieks. The gamblers had fallen out over 
their pretty stakes. After a short squabble one had drawn his 
knife on the other and stabbed him hi the side. The wounded 
man fell howling on the ground and the assassin took to his 
heels. The dancers of the establishment, heedless of the 
catastrophe, began at once to rattle their castagnettes and 
sway and whirl in disgraceful pantomime. 

After Benilo had passed the shameful den and reached the 
end of the alley he found himself once more in one of the 
waste regions of the city. Truly many an emperor was more 
easily discovered than John of the Catacombs. The region 
had the appearance as if an earthquake had shattered into 
dust the splendid temples and porticoes of antiquity, so great 
was the destruction, which confronted him on every turn. 
High in the air could be heard the hoarse cry of the vulture, 
wheeling home from some feast of carnage; in the near-by 
marshes the croaking of the frogs alternated with the dismal 
cry of the whippoorwill. 

Suddenly the Chamberlain paused and for a moment even 
his stout heart stopped beating, and his face turned a ghastly 
pallor. For directly before him there arose out of the under 
brush, with back apparently turned towards him, some formless 
apparition in the dark habit of a monk, the cowl drawn over 
his head. But when he attained his natural height, he faced 
Benilo, although the latter would have sworn that he did not 
see him turn. 

75 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

It was with some degree of fascination that Benilo watched 
the person and the movements of this human monster. What 
appeared of his head from under the cowl seemed to have 
become green with cadaverous tints. One might say that the 
mustiness of the sepulchre already covered the bluish down of 
his skin. His eyes, with their strong gaze sparkled from 
beneath a large yellowish bruise, and his drooping jaws were 
joined to the skin by two lines as straight as the lines of a 
triangle. The bravo s trembling hands, the colour of yellow 
wax, were only a net-work of veins and nerves. His sleeves 
fluttered on his fleshless arms like a streamer on a pole. His 
robe fell from his shoulders to his heels perfectly straight 
without a single fold, as rigid as the drapery in the later 
pictures of Cimabue or Orcagna. There appeared to be nothing 
but a shadow under the brown cowl and out of that shadow 
stared two stony eyes. John of the Catacombs looked like a 
corpse returned to earth, to write his memoirs. 

At the sight of the individual, reputed the greatest scourge 
in Rome, the Chamberlain could not repress a shudder, and 
his right hand sought mechanically the hilt of his poniard. 

" Why thou art a merry dog in thy friar s cowl, Don 
Giovan, though it will hardly save thee from the gallows," 
exclaimed Benilo, approaching slowly. " Since when dost 
affect monastic manners? " 

" Since the fiend is weary of saints, their cowls go begging," 
a harsh grating voice replied, while a hideous sneer lit up the 
almost fleshless skull of the bravo, as with his turbid yellow 
eyes, resembling those of a dead fish, he stared hi Benilo s face. 

" And for all that," the denisen of the ruins continued, 
watching from under inflamed eyelids the effect his person 
produced on his Maecenas, " and for all that I shall make as 
good a saint as was ever catalogued hi your martyrology." 

" The fiend for aught might make the same," replied Benilo. 
" What is your business here? " 

76 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 

" Watching over dead men s bones," replied the bravo 
doggedly. 

" Never lie to the devil, you will neither deceive him 
nor me! Not that I dispute any man s right to be hanged 
or stabbed least of all thine, Don Giovan." 

" Tis for another to regulate all such honours," replied 
the bravo. " And it is an old saying, never trust a horse or 
a woman! " 

Benilo started as if the bravo had read his thoughts. 

" You prate hi enigmas," he said after a pause. " I will be 
brief with you and plain. We should not scratch, when we 
tickle. I am looking for an honest rogue. I need a trusty 
and discreet varlet, who can keep his tongue between his teeth 
and forget not only his master s name, but his own likewise. 
Have you the quality? " 

John of the Catacombs stared at the speaker as if at a loss 
to comprehend his meaning. Instead of answering he glanced 
uneasily in the direction of the river. 

" Speak out, man, my time is brief," urged the Chamberlain, 
" I have learned to value your services even hi the harm you 
have wrought, and if you will enter my service, you shall some 
day hang the keys of a nobler tower on your girdle than you 
ever dreamt of." 

The bravo winced, but did not reply. Suddenly he raised 
his head as if listening. A sound resembling the faint splash 
of an oar broke the stillness. A yell vibrated through the air, 
a louder splash was heard, then all was deep silence as before. 

" That sounded not like the prayer of a Christian soul 
departing," Benilo said with an involuntary shudder, noting 
the grin of satisfaction which passed over the outlaw s face. 
" What was that ? " 

" Of my evil brother an evil instrument," replied John of 
the Catacombs enigmatically. 

" I fear you will have to learn manners hi my school, Don 

77 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Giovan," said Benilo in return. " But your answer. Are 
you ready? " 

" This very night ? " gasped the bravo, suspecting the offer 
and fearful of a snare. 

" Why not ? " demanded the Chamberlain curtly. 

" I am bound in another s service ! " 

" You are an over-punctilious rogue, Don Giovan. To 
morrow then ! " 

" Agreed ! " gurgled the bravo, extending a monstrously 
large hand from under his gown, with a forefinger of ex 
traordinary length, on the end of which there was a wart. 

Benilo pretended not to see the proffered member. But 
before addressing himself further to John of the Catacombs 
he glanced round cautiously. 

" Are we alone? " 

The bravo nodded. 

" Is my presence here not proof enough ? " 

The argument prevailed. 

" To our business then ! " Benilo replied guardedly, seating 
himself upon a fragment of granite and watching every gesture 
of the bravo. 

" There arrived to-day in Rome, Eckhardt the general. 
His welfare is very dear to me! I should be disconsolate 
came he to harm in the exercise of his mission, whatever that 
be!" 

There was a brief pause during which their eyes met. 

The outlaw s face twitched strangely. Or was it the play 
of the moonbeams? 

" Being given to roaming at random round the city," 
Benilo continued, speaking very slowly as if to aid the bravo s 
comprehension, " for such is their wont in their own wilder 
nesses, I am fearful he might go astray, and the Roman 
temper is uncertain. Yet is Eckhardt so fearless, that he 
would scorn alike warning or precaution. Therefore I would 

78 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 

have you dog his footsteps from afar, but let him not suspect 
your presence, if you wish to see the light of another morning. 
Wear your monk s habit, it becomes you! You look as lean 
and hungry and wolfish as a hermit of twelve years halo, 
who feeds on wild roots and snails. But to me you will each 
day report the points of interest, which the German leader 
has visited, that I too may become familiar with their attraction. 
Do I speak plainly? " 

" I will follow him as his shadow," gurgled the bravo. 

Benilo held out a purse which John of the Catacombs 
greedily devoured with his eyes. 

" You are a greedy knave," he said at last with a forced 
laugh. " But since you love gold so dearly, you shall feast 
your eyes on it till they tire of its sheen. Be ready at my first 
call and remember secrecy and despatch ! " 

" When shall it be? " queried the bravo. 

" A matter of a day or two at best no longer ! Meanwhile 
you will improve your antiquarian learning by studying the 
walks of Rome in company with the German general. But 
remember your distance, unless you would meet the devil s 
grandame instead of creeping back to your hovels. And where, 
by the way, may a pair of good eyes discover John of the Cata 
combs in case of urgent need? " 

The bravo seemed to ponder. 

" There is an old inn behind the Forum. It will save your 
messenger the trouble to seek me in the Catacombs. Have 
him ask for the lame brother of the Penitents, but do not 
write, for I cannot read it." 

Benilo nodded. 

" If I can trust you, the gain will be yours," he said. " And 
now lead the way ! " 

John of the Catacombs preceded his new patron through 
the tall weeds which almost concealed him from view, until 
they reached a clearing not far from the river, whose turbid 

79 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

waves rolled sluggishly towards Ostia. Here they parted, the 
bravo retracing his steps towards the region whence they had 
come, while Benilo made for the gorge between Mounts 
Aventine and Testaccio. It was an ill-famed vale, noted even 
in remote antiquity for the gross orgies whence it had gained 
its evil repute, after the cult of Isis had been brought from 
Egypt to Rome. 

The hour was not far from midnight. The moon had 
passed her zenith and was declining in the horizon. Her 
pale spectral rays cast an uncertain light over the region 
and gave the shadows a weird and almost threatening promi 
nence. In this gorge there dwelt one Dom Sabbat, half sor 
cerer, half madman, towards whose habitation Benilo now 
directed his steps. He was not long reaching a low structure, 
half concealed between tall weeds and high boulders. Swiftly 
approaching, Benilo knocked at the door. After a wait of 
some duration shuffling foot steps were to be heard within. 
A door was being unbarred, then the Chamberlain could dis 
tinguish the unfastening of chains, accompanied by a low 
dry cough. At last the low door was cautiously opened and 
he found himself face to face with an almost shapeless form 
in the long loose habit of the cloister, ending in a peaked 
cowl, cut as it seemed out of one cloth, and covering the face 
as well as the back of the head, barring only two holes for 
the eyes and a slit for the mouth. After the uncanny host 
had, by the light of a lantern, which he could shade at will, 
peered closely into his visitor s face, he silently nodded, beck 
oning the other to enter and carefully barred the door behind 
him. Through a low, narrow corridor, Dom Sabbat led the 
way to a sort of kitchen, such as an alchemist might use for 
his experiments and with many grotesque bends bade his 
visitor be seated, but Benilo declined curtly, for he was ill at 
ease. 

" I have little time to spare," he said, scarcely noticing the 

80 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 

alchemist s obeisance, " and less inclination to enter into 
particulars. Give me what I want and let me be gone out of 
this atmosphere, which is enough to stifle the lungs of an 
honest man." 

" Hi, hi, my illustrious friend," fawned the other with evi 
dent enjoyment of his patron s impatience. " Was the horo 
scope not right to a minute? Did not the charm work its 
unpronounced intent ? " 

" Tis well you remind me ! It required six stabs to finish 
your bungling work ! See to it, that you do not again deceive 
me!" 

" You say six stabs? " replied Dom Sabbat, looking up 
from the task he was engaged in, of mixing some substances 
in a mortar. " Yet Mars was in the Cancer and the fourth 
house of the Sun. But perhaps the gentleman had eaten 
river-snails with nutmeg or taken a bath in snake skins and 
stags-antlers? " 

"To the devil with your river-snails!" exploded Benilo. 
" The love-philtre and quickly, else I will have you smoked 
out of your devil s lair ere the moon be two hours older ! " 

The alchemist shook his head, as if pained by his patron s 
ill temper. Yet he could not abstain from tantalizing him by 
assuming a misapprehension of his meaning. 

" The hour," he mumbled slowly, and with studied hesita 
tion, " is not propitious. Evil planets are in the ascendant and 
the influence of your good genius is counteracted by antagon 
istic spells." 

" Fool! " growled Benilo, at the same time raising his foot 
as if to spurn the impostor like a dog. " You keep but one 
sort of wares such as I require, let me have the strongest." 

Neither the gesture nor the insult were lost on Dom Sabbat, 
yet he preserved a calm and imperturbable demeanour, while, 
as if soliloquizing, he continued his irritating inquiries. 

"A love-philtre? They are priceless indeed; even a 

81 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

nun, three drops of that clear tasteless fluid, and she were 
yours." 

Again Benilo s lips straightened in a hard, drawn line. 
Stooping over the alchemist, he whispered two words into 
his ear, which caused Dom Sabbat to glance up with 
such an expression of horror that Benilo involuntarily burst 
into a loud laugh, which sent the other spinning to his 
task. 

Ransacking some remote corner in his devil s kitchen he 
at last produced a tiny phial, which he wrapped in a thin 
scroll. This he placed with trembling hands into those eagerly 
stretched out to grasp it and received therefor a hand full of 
gold coin, the weight of which seemed to indicate that secrecy 
was to constitute no small portion of the bargain. 

After having conducted his visitor to the entrance, where 
he took leave of him with many bends of the head and mani 
fold protestations of devotion, Dom Sabbat locked his abode 
and Benilo hastened towards the city. 

As he mentally surveyed the events of the evening even to 
their remotest consequences, he seemed to have neglected no 
precaution, nor omitted anything which might eventually 
prevent him from triumphing over his opponents. But even 
while reviewing with a degree of satisfaction the business of 
the night, terrible misgivings, like dream shadows, drooped 
over his mind. After all it was a foolhardy challenge he had 
thrown to fate. Maddened by the taunts of a woman, he had 
arrayed forces against himself which he must annihilate, else 
they would tear him to pieces. The time for temporizing had 
passed. He stood on the crater of a volcano, and his ears, 
trained to the sounds of danger, could hear the fateful rumbling 
in the depths below. 

In that fateful hour there ripened in the brain of Benilo 
the Chamberlain a thought, destined in its final consequences 
to subvert a dynasty. After all there was no security for him 

82 



JOHN OF THE CATACOMBS 

in Rome, while the Germans held sway in the Patrimony of 
St. Peter. But indolent and voluptuous as he was caring 
for nothing save the enjoyment of the moment, how was he 
to wield the thunderbolt for their destruction, how was he to 
accomplish that, in which Crescentius had failed, backed by 
forces equal to those of the foreigners and entrenched in his 
impregnable stronghold ? 

As Benilo weighed the past against the future, the scales 
of his crimes sank so deeply to earth that, had Mercy thrown 
her weight in the balance it would not have changed the ulti 
mate decree of Retribution. Only the utter annihilation of 
the foreign invaders could save him. Eckhardt s life might 
be at the mercy of John of the Catacombs. The poison phial 
might accomplish what the brave s dagger failed to do, but 
one thing stood out clearly and boldly in his mind ; the German 
leader must not live ! Theodora dared not win the wager, 
but even therein lay the greater peril. The moment she 
scented an obstacle in her path, she would move all the powers 
of darkness to remove it and it required little perspicuity to 
point out the source, whence it proceeded. 

At the thought of the humiliation he had received at her 
hands, Benilo gnashed his teeth in impotent rage. His pride, 
his vanity, his self-love, had been cruelly stabbed. He might 
retaliate by rousing her fear. But if she had passed beyond 
the point of caring? 

As, wrapt in dark ruminations, Benilo followed the lonely 
path, which carried him toward the city, there came to him a 
thought, swift and sudden, which roused the evil nature within 
him to its highest tension. 

Could his own revenge be more complete than by using his 
enemies, one for the destruction of the other? And as for the 
means, Theodora herself would furnish them. Meanwhile - 
how would Johannes Crescentius bear the propinquity of his 
hereditary foe, the emperor? Might not the Senator be goaded 

83 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

towards the fateful brink of rebellion? Then, Romans and 
Germans once more engaged in a death grapple, his own time 
would come, must come, the time of victory and ultimate 
triumph. 



CHAPTER VII 




THE VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

WO days had elapsed since Eck- 
hardt s arrival in Rome. At the 
close of each day, he had met 
Benilo on the Palatine, each 
time renewing the topic of their 
former discourse. Benilo had 
listened attentively and, with all 
the eloquence at his command, 
had tried to dissuade the com 
mander from taking a step so 
fateful in its remotest consequences. On the evening of the 
third day the Chamberlain had displayed a strange disquietude 
and replied to Eckhardt s questions with a wandering mind. 
Then without disclosing the nature of the business which he 
professed to have on hand, they parted earlier than had been 
their wont. 

The shades of evening began to droop with phantom swift 
ness. Over the city brooded the great peace of an autumnal 
twilight. The last rays of the sun streaming from between a 
heavy cloud-bank, lay across the landscape in broad zones of 
brilliancy. In the pale green sky, one by one, the evening 
stars began to appear, but through the distant cloud-bank 
quivered summer lightning like the waving of fiery whips. 

Feeling that sleep would not come to him in his present 
wrought up state of mind, Eckhardt resolved to revisit the 
spot which held the dearest he had possessed on earth. Per 
haps, that prayer at the grave of Ginevra would bring peace to 

85 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

his soul and rest to his wearied heart. His feet bore him on 
ward unawares through winding lanes and deserted streets 
until he reached the gate of San Sebastiano. There, he left the 
road for a turfy hollow, where groups of black cypress trees 
stretched out their branches like spectral arms, uplifted to 
warn back intruders. He stood before the churchyard of 
San Pancrazio. 

Pausing for a moment irresolutely before its gloomy portals 
Eckhardt seemed to waver before entering the burial ground. 
Hushing his footsteps, as from a sense of awe, he then followed 
the well-known path. The black foliage drooped heavily 
over him; it seemed to draw him in and close him out of 
sight, and although there was scarcely any breeze, the dying 
leaves above rustled mysteriously, like voices whispering some 
awful secret, known to them alone. A strange mystery seemed 
to pervade the silence of their sylvan shadows, a mystery, 
dread, unfathomable, and guessed by none. With a dreary 
sense of oppression, yet drawn onward by some mysterious 
force, Eckhardt followed the path, which here and there was 
over-grown with grass and weeds. Uneasily he lifted the over 
hanging branches and peered between the dense and luminous 
foliage. Up and down he wistfully gazed, now towards the 
winding path, lined by old gravestones, leading to the cloister; 
now into the shadowy depths of the shrubbery. At times he 
paused to listen. Never surely was there such a silence any 
where as here. The murmur of the distant stream was lost. 
The leaves seemed to nod drowsily, as out of the depths of a 
dream and the impressive stillness of the place seemed a silent 
protest against the solitary intruder, a protest from the dead, 
whose slumber the muffled echo of his footsteps disturbed. 

For the first time Eckhardt repented of his nocturnal visit 
to the abode of the dead. Seized with a strange fear, his 
presence in the churchyard at this hour seemed to him an 
intrusion, and after a moment or two of silent musing he 

86 



VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

turned back, finding it impossible to proceed. Absently he 
gazed at the decaying flowers, which turned their faces up to 
him in apparent wonderment; the ferns seemed to nod and 
every separate leaf and blade of grass seemed to question him 
silently on the errand of his visit. Surely no one, watching 
Eckhardt at this place and at this hour, if there was such a 
one near by chance, would have recognized in him the stern 
soldier who had twice stormed the walls of Rome. 

Onward he walked as hi the memory of a dream, a strange 
dream, which had visited him on the preceding night, and 
which now suddenly waked in his memory. It was a vague 
haunting thing, a vision of a great altar, of many candles, of 
himself in a gown of sack-cloth, striving to light them and 
failing again and again, yet still seeing their elusive glare in 
a continual flicker before his eyes. And as he mused upon 
his dream his heart grew heavy in his breast. He had grown 
cowardly of pity and renewed grief. 

Following a winding path, so overgrown with moss that 
his footsteps made no sound upon it, which he believed would 
lead him out of the churchyard, Eckhardt was staggered by 
the discovery that he had walked in a circle, for almost di 
rectly before him rose the grassy knoll tufted with palms, 
between which shone the granite monument over Ginevra s 
grave. Believing at this moment more than ever in his life 
in signs and portents, Eckhardt slowly ascended the sloping 
ground, now oblivious alike to sight and sound, and lost in the 
depths of his own thoughts. Bitter thoughts they were and 
dreamily vague, such as fever and nightmare bring to us. Re 
lentlessly all the long-fought misery swept over him again, 
burying him beneath waves so vast, that time and space 
seemed alike to vanish. He knelt at the grave and with a 
fervour such as is born of a mind completely lost in the depths 
of mysticism, he prayed that he might once more behold Gi- 
nevra, as her image lived in his memory. The vague deep- 

87 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

rooted misery in his heart was concentrated in this greatest de 
sire of his life, the desire to look once more upon her, who 
had gone from him for ever. 

After having exhausted all the pent-up fervour of his soul 
Eckhardt was about to rise, little strengthened and less con 
vinced of the efficacy of his prayer, when his eyes were fixed 
upon the tall apparition of a woman, who stood in the shadow 
of the cypress trees and seemed to regard him with a strange 
mixture of awe and mournfulness. With parted lips and rigid 
features, the life s blood frozen in his veins, Eckhardt stared 
at the apparition, his face covered with a pallor more deadly 
than that of the phantom, if phantom indeed it was. A long 
white shroud fell in straight folds from her head to her feet, 
but the face was exposed, and as he gazed upon it, at once so 
calm and so passionate, so cold and yet so replete with life, 
he knew it was Ginevra who stood before him. Her eyes, 
strangely undimmed by death, burnt into his very soul, and his 
heart began to palpitate with a mad longing. Spreading out 
his arms in voiceless entreaty, the half-choken outcry : " Gi 
nevra! Ginevra! " came from his lips, a cry in which was 
mingled at once the most supreme anguish and the most 
supreme love. 

But as the sound of his voice died away, the apparition had 
vanished, and seemed to have melted into air. Only a lizard 
sped over the stone in the moonlight and in the branches of 
the cypress trees above resounded the scream of some startled 
night-bird. Then everything faded in vague unconsciousness, 
across which flitted lurid lights and a face that suddenly grew 
dim in the strange and tumultuous upheaval of his senses. 
The single moment had seemed an hour, so fraught with strange 
and weird impressions. 

Dazed, half-mad, his brow bathed in cold dew, Eckhardt 
staggered to his feet and glanced round like one waking from 
a dream. The churchyard of San Pancrazio was deserted. 

88 



VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

Not another human being was to be seen. Surely his senses, 
strangely overwrought though they were, had not deceived 
him. Here, close beside him, the apparition had stood 
but a moment ago ; with his own eyes he had seen her, yet no 
human foot had trampled the fantastic tangle of creepers, that 
lay in straggling length upon the emerald turf. He lingered 
no longer to reason. His brain was in a fiery whirl. Like one 
demented, Eckhardt rushed from the church-yard. There 
was at this moment in his heart such a pitiful tumult of broken 
passions, hopelessness and despair, that the acute, unen 
durable pain came later. 

As yet, half of him refused to accept the revelation. The 
very thought crushed him with a weight of rocks. Amid the 
deceitful shadows of night he had fallen prey to that fear from 
which the bravest are not exempt in such surroundings. The 
distinctness of his perception forbade him to doubt the testi 
mony of his senses. Yet, what he had seen, was altogether 
contrary to reason. A thousand thoughts and surmises, 
one wilder than the other, whirled confusedly through his 
brain. A great benumbing agony gnawed at his heart. That, 
which he in reason should have regarded as a great boon 
began to affect him like a mortal injury. By fate or some 
mysterious agency he had been permitted to see her once more, 
but the yearning had increased, for not a word had the ap 
parition vouchsafed him, and from his arms, extended in 
passionate entreaty, it had fled into the night, whence it had 
arisen. 

Accustomed to the windings of the churchyard, Eckhardt 
experienced little difficulty in finding his way out. He paced 
through the wastes of Campo Marzio at a reckless speed, like 
a madman escaped from his guards. His brain was aflame; 
his cheeks, though deadly pale, burned as from the hidden 
fires of a fever. The phenomenon had dazzled his eyes like 
the keen zigzag of a lightning flash. Even now he saw her 

89 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

floating before him, as in a luminous whirlwind, and he felt, 
that never to his life s end could he banish her image from his 
heart. His love for the dead had grown to vastness like those 
plants, which open their blossoms with a thunder clap. He 
felt no longer master of himself, but like one whose chariot is 
carried by terrified and uncontrollable steeds towards some 
steep rock bristling precipice. 

Gradually, thanks to the freshness of the night-air, Eck- 
hardt became a little more calm. Feeling now but half 
convinced of the reality of the vision, he sought by the au 
thentication of minor details to convince himself that he 
was not the victim of some strange hallucination. But 
he felt, to his dismay, that every natural explanation tell 
short of the truth, and his own argumentation was anything 
but convincing. 

In the climax of wonderment Eckhardt had questioned him 
self, whether he might not actually be walking in a dream; 
he even seriously asked himself whether madness was not 
parading its phantoms before his eyes. But he soon felt 
constrained to admit, that he was neither asleep nor mad. 
Thus he began gradually to accept the fact of Ginevra s presence, 
as in a dream we never question the intervention of persons 
actually long dead, but who nevertheless seem to act like 
living people. 

The moon was sinking through the azure when Eckhardt 
passed the Church of the Hermits on Mount Aventine. The 
portals were open; the interior dimly lighted. The spirit of 
repentance burned at fever heat in the souls of the Romans. 
From day-break till midnight, and from midnight till day-break, 
there rose under the high vaulted arches an incessant hum of 
prayer. The penitential cells, the vaults underneath the chapels, 
were never empty. The crowds which poured into the city 
from all the world were ever increasing, and the myriad 
churches, chapels and chantries rang night and day with 

90 



VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

Kyrie Eleison litanies and sermons, purporting to portray 
the catastrophe, the hail of brimstone and fire, until the terri 
fied listeners dashed away amid shrieks and yells, shaken to 
the inmost depths of their hearts with the fear that was upon 
them. 

There were still some belated worshippers within, and as 
Eckhardt ascended the stone steps, he was seized with an 
incontrollable desire to have speech with Nilus, the hermit of 
Gaeta, who, he had been told, was holding forth in the Church 
of the Hermits. To him he would confess all, that sorely 
troubled his mind, seeking his counsel and advice. The im 
mense blackness within the Basilica stretched vastly upward 
into its great arching roof, giving to him who stood pigmy- 
like within it, an oppression of enormity. Black was the 
centre of the Nave and unutterably still. A few torches in 
remote shrines threw their lugubrious light down the aisles. 
The pale faces of kneeling monks came now and then into full 
relief, when the scant illumination shifted, stirred by ever so 
faint a breath of air, heavy with the scent of flowers and 
incense. 

Almost succumbing under the strain of superstitious awe, 
exhausted in body and mind by the strange malady, which had 
seized his soul, his senses reeling under the fumes of incense 
and the funereal chant of the monks, his eyes burning with the 
fires of unshed tears, Eckhardt sank down before the image 
of the Mother of God, striving in vain to form a coherent 
prayer. 

How long he had thus remained he knew not. The sound 
of footsteps in the direction of the North transept roused him 
after a time to the purpose of his presence. Following the 
direction indicated to him by one of the sacristans, Eckhardt 
groped his way through the dismal gloom towards the enclosure 
whsre Nilus of Gaeta was supposed to hold his dark sessions. 
By the dim light of a lamp he perceived in the confessional the 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

shadowy form of a monk, and approaching the wicket, he 
greeted the occupant with a humble bend of the head. But, 
what was visible of the monk s countenance was little cal 
culated to relieve the oppression which burdened Eckhardt s 
soul. 

From the mask of the converted cynic peered the eyes of a 
fanatic. The face was one, which might have suggested to 
Luca Signorelli the traits of his Anti-Christ in the Capella 
Nuova at Orvieto. In the deep penetrating eyes was reflected 
the final remorse of the wisdom, which had renounced its 
maker. The face was evil. Yet it was a face of infinite grief, 
as if mourning the eternal fall of man. 

Despite the advanced hour of night the monk was still in 
his seat of confession, and the mighty leader of the German 
host, wrapt in his long military cloak, knelt before the 
emaciated anchorite, his face, manner and voice all betraying 
a great weariness of mind. A look of almost bodily pain 
appeared in Eckhardt s stern countenance as, at the request 
of the monk, who had receded within the gloom of the con 
fessional, he recounted the phenomena of the night, after 
having previously acquainted him with the burden of his grief. 

The monk listened attentively to the weird tale and shook 
his head. 

" I am most strangely in my senses," Eckhardt urged, noting 
the monk s gesture. " I have seen her, whether in the 
body, or the spirit, I know not, but I have seen her." 

" I have listened, my son," said the monk after a pause, in 
his low sepulchral voice. " Ginevra loved you, so you 
say. What could have wrought a change in her, such as you 
hint ? For if she loved you in life, she loves you in death. 
Why should she supposing her present flee from your 
outstretched arms? If your love could compel her to return 
from the beyond, why should it lack the power to make the 
phantom give response? " 

92 



VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

" Could I but fathom that mystery, could I but fathom 
it!" 

" Did you not speak to her? " 

" My lips but uttered her name ! " 

" I am little versed in matters of this kind," the monk re 
plied in a strange tone. " Tis but the natural law, which may 
not be transgressed with impunity. Is your faith so small, 
that you would rather uproot the holiest ties, than deem your 
self the victim of some hallucination, mayhap some jeer of 
the fiend ? Dare you raise yourself on a pedestal, which takes 
from her her defenceless virtue, cold and silent as her lips are 
in death ? " 

Every word of the monk struck Eckhardt s heart with a 
thousand pangs. A deep groan broke from his lips. 

" Madman that I was," he muttered at last, " to think 
that such a tale was fit for mortal ears." 

Then he turned to the monk. 

" Have you no solace to give to me, no light upon the dark 
path, I am about to enter upon, the life of the cloister, 
where I shall end my days? " 

There was a long pause. Surprise seemed to have struck 
the monk dumb. Eckhardt s heart beat stormily in anticipa 
tion of the anchorite s reply. 

" But," a voice sounded from the gloom, " have you 
the patience, the humility, which it behooves the recluse to 
possess, and without which all prayers and penances are in 
vain? " 

" Show me how I can humble myself more, than at this 
hour, when I renounce a life of glory, ambition and command. 
All I want is peace, that peace which has forsaken me 
since her death ! " 

His last words died in a groan. 

" Peace," repeated the monk. " You seek peace in the 
seclusion of the cloister, in holy devotions. I thought Eckhardt 

93 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

of too stern a mould, to be goaded and turned from his duty 
by a mere whim, a pale phantom." 

A long silence ensued. 

" Father," said the Margrave at last, speaking in a low and 
broken voice, " I have done no act of wrong. I will do no act 
of wrong, while I have control over myself. But the thought 
of the dead haunts me night and day. Otto has no further 
need of me. Rome is pacified. The life at court is irksome 
to me. The king loves to surround himself with perfumed 
popinjays, discarding the time-honoured customs of our North 
land for the intricate polity of the East. There is no place 
for Eckhardt in that sphere of mummery." 

For a few moments the monk meditated in silence. 

" It grieves me to the heart," he spoke at last, " to hear a 
soldier confess to being tempted into a life of eternal abnegation. 
I judge it to be a passing madness, which distance and work 
alone can cure. You are not fitted in the sight of God and His 
Mother for the spiritual life, for in Mezentian thraldom you 
have fettered your soul to a corpse in its grave, a sin as black 
as If you had been taken in adultery with the dead. Remain in 
Rome no longer! Return to your post on the boundaries of 
the realm. There, in your lonely tent, pray nightly to the 
Immaculate One for her blessing and pass the day in the saddle 
among the scattered outposts of your command! The monks 
of Rome shall not be festered by the presence among them of 
your fevered soul, and you are sorely needed by God and His 
Son for martial life." 

" Father, you know not all ! " Eckhardt replied after a brief 
pause, during which he lay prostrate, writhing in agony and 
despair. " From youth up have I lived as a man of war. 
To this I was bred by my sire and grandsire of sainted memory. 
I have always hoped to die on some glorious field. But it 
is all changed. I, who never feared mortal man, am trembling 
before a shadow. My love for her, who is no more, has made 

94 



VISION OF SAN PANCRAZIO 

me a coward. I tremble to think that I may not find her in 
the darkness, whither soon I may be going. To this end 
alone I would purchase the peace, which has departed. The 
thought of her has haunted me night and day, ever since her 
death! How often in the watches of the night, on the tented 
field, have I lain awake in silent prayer, once more to behold 
her face, that I can never more forget! " 

There was another long pause, during which the monk 
cast a piercing glance at the prostrate soldier. Slowly at last 
the voice came from the shadows. 

" Then you still believe yourself thus favoured ? " 

" So firmly do I believe in the reality of the vision, that I 
am here to ask your blessing and your good offices with the 
Prior of St. Cosmas in the matter closest to my heart." 

" Nay," the monk replied as if speaking to himself, " if 
you have indeed been favoured with a vision, then were it 
indeed presumptuous in one, the mere interpreter of the 
will divine, to oppose your request! You have chosen a strict 
brotherhood, though, for when your novitiate is ended, you will 
not be permitted to ever again leave the walls of the cloister." 

" Such is my choice," replied Eckhardt. " And now your 
blessing and intercession, father. Let the time of my novitiate 
be brief!" 

" I will do what I can," replied the monk, then he added 
slowly and solemnly: 

" Christ accepts your obedience and service ! I purge you 
of your sins in the name of the Trinity and the Mother of God, 
into whose holy keeping I now commit you ! Go in peace ! " 

" I go! " muttered the Margrave, rising exhausted from his 
long agony and staggering down the dark aisles of the church. 

Eckhardt s footsteps had no sooner died away in the gloom 
of the high-vaulted arches, than two shadows emerged from 
behind a pillar and moved noiselessly down towards the 
refectory. 

95 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

In the dim circle of light emanating from the tapers round 
the altar, they faced each other a moment. 

" What ails the Teuton? " muttered the Grand Chamberlain, 
peering into the muffled countenance of the pseudo-confessor. 

" He upbraids the fiend for cheating him of the smile of a 
corpse," the monk Cyprianus replied with strangely jarring 
voice. 

" And yet you fear I will lose my wager? " sneered the 
Chamberlain. 

The monk shrugged his shoulders. 

" They have a proverb in Ferrara : * He who may not eat 
a peach, may not smell at it. " 

" And you were not revealed to him, you, for whom he has 
scoured the very slime of the Tiber? " Benilo queried, ignoring 
the monk s facetiousness. 

" Tis sad to think, what changes time has wrought," 
replied the latter with downcast eyes. " Truly it behooves 
us to think of the end, the end of time ! " 

And without another word the monk passed down the 
aisles and his tall form was swallowed in the gloom of the 
Church of the Hermits. 

" The end ! " Benilo muttered to himself as he thoughtfully 
gazed after the monk. " Croak thou thine own doom, Cy 
prianus ! One soul weighs as much as another in the devil s 
balance ! " 

With these words Benilo passed through the portals of the 
church and was soon lost to sight among the ruins of the 
Aventine. 



96 



CHAPTER VIII 




CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

IGHT had spread her pinions 
over the ancient capital of the 
Caesars and deepest silence had 
succeeded the thousand cries 
and noises of the day. Few 
belated strollers still lingered in 
the deserted squares. Under the 
shadows of the Borgo Vecchio 
slow moving figures could be 
seen flitting noiselessly as phan 
toms through the marble ruins of antiquity, pausing for 
a moment under the high unlighted arches, talking in under 
tones and vanishing in the night, while the remote swell 
of monkish chants, monotonous and droning, died on the 
evanescent breezes. 

Round Castel San Angelo, rising, a giant Mausoleum, vast 
and sombre out of the solitudes of the Flaminian Way, night 
wove a more poetic air of mystery and quiet, and but for the 
tread of the ever wakeful sentinels on its ramparts, the colossal 
tomb of the emperor Hadrian would have appeared a deserted 
Memento Mori of Imperial Rome, the possession of which no 
one cared to dispute with the shades of the Caesars or the 
ghosts of the mangled victims, which haunted the intricate 
labyrinth of its subterranean chambers and vaults. 

A pale moon was rising behind the hills of Albano, whose 
ghostly rays cast an unsteady glow over the undulating ex 
panse of the Roman Campagna, and wove a pale silver mount- 

97 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

ing round the crest of the imperial tomb, whose towering 
masses seemed to stretch interminably into the night, as if 
oppressed with their own memories. 

What a monstrous melodrama was contained in yonder 
circular walls! They wore a comparatively smiling look only 
in the days when Castel San Angelo received the dead. Then 
according to the historian Procopius, the immense three-storied 
rotunda, surmounted by a pyramidal roof had its sides covered 
with Parian marble, intersected with columns and surmounted 
with a ring of Grecian statues. The first story was a quad 
rangular basement, decorated with festoons and tablets of 
funeral inscriptions, colossal equestrian groups in gilt bronze 
at the four corners. 

Within the memory of living generation, this pile had been 
the theatre of a tragedy, almost unparalleled in the annals of 
Rome, the scene of the wildest Saturnalia, that ever stained 
the history of mediaeval state. An incongruous relic of antique 
profligacy and the monstrosities of the lower empire, drawing 
its fatal power from feudal institutions, Theodora, a woman 
illustrious for her beauty and rank, had at the dawn of the 
century quartered herself hi Castel San Angelo. From there 
she exercised over Rome a complete tyranny, sustained against 
German influence by an Italian party, which counted amongst 
its chiefs Adalbert, Count of Tuscany, the father of this 
second Messalina. Her fateful beauty ruled Church and state. 
Theodora caused one pontiff after another to be deposed and 
nominated eight popes successively. She had a daughter as 
beautiful and as powerful as herself and still more depraved. 
Marozia, as she was called, reigned surpreme in Castel San 
Angelo and caused the election of Sergius III, Anastasius III 
and John X, the latter a creature of Theodora, who had him 
appointed to the bishopric of Ravenna. Intending to deprive 
Theodora and her lover, the Pope, of the dominion of Rome, 
Marozia invaded the Lateran with a band of ruffians, put to 

98 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

the sword the brother of the Pope, and incarcerated the pontiff, 
who died hi prison either by poison or otherwise. Tradition 
relates that his corpse was placed in Theodora s bed, and 
superstition believes that he was strangled by the devil as a 
punishment for his sins. 

Left as widow by the premature death of the Count of 
Tusculum and married to Guido, Prince of Tuscany, Marozia, 
after the demise of her second husband, was united by a third 
marriage to Hugo of Provence, brother of Guido. Suc 
cessively she placed on the pontifical throne Leo VI and 
Stephen VIII, then she gave the tiara to John XI, her younger 
son. One of her numerous offspring imprisoned hi the same 
dungeon both his mother and his brother, the Pope, and then 
destroyed them. Rumour hath it, however, that a remote 
descendant, who had inherited Marozia s fatal beauty, had been 
mysteriously abducted at an early age and concealed hi a 
convent, to save her from the contamination and licentious 
ness, which ran riot in the blood of the women of her house. 
She had been heard of no more and forgotten long ago. 

After the changes and vicissitudes of half a century the 
family of the Crescentii had taken possession of Castel San 
Angelo, keeping their state in the almost impregnable strong 
hold, without which the possession of Rome availed but little 
to any conqueror. It was a period marked by brutal passions 
and feudal anarchy. The Romans had degenerated to the low 
estate of the barbarian hordes, which had during the great 
upheaval extinguished the light of the Western empire. The 
Crescentii traced their origin even to that Theodora of evil 
fame, who had perished in the dungeons of the formidable 
keep, and Johannes Crescentius, the present Senator and 
Patricius, seemed wrapt in dark ruminations, as from the win 
dow of a chamber hi the third gallery he looked out into the 
night, gazing upon the eddying Tiber below, bordered by dreary 
huts, thinly interspersed with ilex, and the barren wastes, 

99 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

from which rose massive watch-towers. Far away to South 
ward sloped the Alban hills. From the dark waving greens of 
Monte Pincio the eye, wandering along the ridge of the Quirinal, 
reached to the mammoth arches of Constantino s Basilica, to 
the cypress bluffs of Aventine. Almost black they looked at 
the base, so deep was their shade, contrasted with the spectral 
moon-light, which flooded their eminences. 

The chamber in which the Senator of Rome paced to and 
fro, was large and exceedingly gloomy, being lighted only 
by a single taper which threw all objects it did not touch into 
deep shadow. This fiery illumination, casting its uncertain 
glimmer upon the face of Crescentius, revealed thereon an 
expression of deepest gloom and melancholy and his thoughts 
seemed to roam far away. 

The workings of time, the traces of furious passions, the 
lines wrought by care and sorrow were evident in the counte 
nance of the Senator of Rome and sometimes gave it in the 
eyes of the physiognomist an expression of melancholy and 
devouring gloom. Only now and then there shot athwart 
his features, like lightning through a distant cloud-bank, a 
look of more strenuous daring of almost terrifying keenness, 
like the edge of a bare and sharpened sword. 

The features of Johannes Crescentius were regular, almost 
severe in their classic outlines. It was the Roman type, 
softened by centuries of amalgamation with the descendants 
of the invading tribes of the North. The Lord of Castel San 
Angelo was in the prime of manhood. The dark hair was 
slightly touched with gray, his complexion bronzed. The gray 
eyes with their glow like polished steel had a Brutus-like 
expression, grave and impenetrable. 

The hour marked the close of a momentous interview. 
Benilo, the Grand Chamberlain, had just left the Senator s 
presence. He had been the bearer of strange news which, if 
it proved true, would once more turn the tide of fortune in 

100 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

the Senator s favour. He had urged Crescentius to make 
the best of the opportunity the moment might never return 
again. He had unmasked a plot, the plausibility of which 
had even staggered the Senator s sagacious mind. At first 
Crescentius had fiercely resented the Chamberlain s sugges 
tions, but by degrees his resistance had lessened and after 
his departure the course outlined by Benilo seemed to hold 
out a strange fascination. 

After glancing at the sand-clock on the table Crescentius 
ascended the narrow winding stairs leading to the upper 
galleries of the formidable keep, whose dark, blackened walls 
were lighted by tapers hi measured intervals, and made his 
way through a dark passage, until he reached the door of an 
apartment at the opposite end of the corridor. He knocked 
and receiving no response, entered, closing the door noiselessly 
behind him. 

On the threshold he paused taking in at a glance the picture 
before him. 

The apartment was of moderate size. The lamp in the 
oratory was turned low. The windows facing the Campagna 
were open and the soft breeze of night stole into the flower- 
scented room. There was small semblance of luxury about the 
chamber, which was flanked on one side by an oratory, on the 
other, by a sleeping room, whose open door permitted a glimpse 
of a great, high bed, hung with draperies of sarcenet. 

On a couch, her head resting on her bare, white arms re 
clined Stephania, the consort of the Senator of Rome. Tenderly 
the night wind caressed the soft dark curls, which stole down 
her brow. Her right hand supported a head exquisitely beauti 
ful, while the fingers of the left played mechanically with the 
folds of her robe. Zoe, her favourite maiden, sat hi silence 
on the floor, holding in her lap a red and blue bird, which now 
and then flapped its wings and gave forth a strange cry. All 
else was silent within and without. 

101 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Stephania s thoughts dwelt in bygone days. 

Listless and silent she reclined in her pillows, reviewing 
the past in pictures that mocked her soul. Till a few hours 
ago she had believed that she had conquered that madness. 
But something had inflamed her hatred anew and she felt like 
a goddess bent upon punishing the presumption of mortal 
man. 

The memory of her husband holding the emperor s stirrup 
upon the latter s entry into Rome had rekindled in her another 
thought which she most of all had striven to forget. It alone 
had, to her mind, sufficed to make reconciliation to existing 
conditions impossible. Shame and hate seethed anew in her 
soul. She could have strangled the son of Theophano with her 
own hands. 

But did Crescentius himself wish to break the shackles 
which were forever to destroy the prestige of a noble house, 
that had for more than a century ruled the city of Rome? 
Was he content to be the lackey of that boy, before whom a 
mighty empire bowed, a youth truly, imbued with the beauty 
of body and soul which fall but rarely to one mortal s lot 
but yet a youth, a barbarian, the descendant of the Nomad 
tribes of the great upheaval? Was there no one, worthy of 
the name of a great Roman, v/ho would cement the disin 
tegrated states of Italy, plant his standards upon the Capitol 
and proclaim himself lord of new Roman world? And he, her 
husband, from whom at one time she had expected such great 
things, was he not content with his lot? Was he not at this 
very moment offering homage to the despised foreigners, 
kissing the sandals of a heretical pope, whom a bribed Con 
clave had placed in the chair of St. Peter through the armed 
manifestation of an emperor s will? 

The walls of Castel San Angelo weighed upon her like lead, 
since Rome was again defiled by these Northern barbarians, 
whom her countrymen were powerless to repulse, whom they 

IO2 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

dared not provoke and under whose insolence they smarted. 
Stephania heaved a deep sigh. Then everything faded from 
her vision, like a landscape shrouded in mist and she relapsed 
in twilight dreams of a past that had gone forever. 

For a moment Crescentius lingered on the threshold, as if 
entranced by the vision of her loveliness. The stern and 
anxious look, which his face had worn during the interview 
with the Chamberlain, passed off like a summer storm, as he 
stood before his adored wife. She started, as his shadow dark 
ened the doorway, but the next moment he was at her side, and 
taking both her white hands in his, he drew her towards him 
and gazed with love and scrutiny into the velvet depths of 
her eyes. 

For a moment her manner seemed slightly embarrassed 
and there was something in her tone which did not escape the 
Senator s trained ear. 

" I am glad you came," she said after the usual interchange 
of greetings such as lovers indulge in when brought together 
after a brief separation. " My lord s time has been greatly 
occupied in the emperor s absence." 

Crescentius failed not to note the reproach in the tone of 
his wife, even through her smile. She seemed more radiantly 
beautiful than ever at this moment. 

" And what would my queen have? " he asked. " All I 
have, or ever shall have, is hers." 

" Queen indeed, queen of a sepulcher, of the Mausoleum 
of an emperor," she replied scornfully. " But I ask not for 
jewels or palaces or women s toys. I am my lord s help 
mate. I am to take counsel in affairs of state." 

A musing glance broke from the Senator s eyes. 

" Affairs of state," he said, with a smile and a sigh. " Alas, 
I hoped when I turned my back on Aventine, there would be 
love awaiting me and oblivion in Stephania s arms. But I 
have strange news for you, has it reached your ear? " 

103 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

She shook her head. " I know of nothing stranger than the 
prevailing state." 

He ignored the veiled reproach. 

" Margrave Eckhardt of Meissen, the German commander- 
in-chief, is bent upon taking holy orders. I thought it was 
an idle rumour, some gossip of the taverns, but within the 
hour it has been confirmed to me by a source whose authen 
ticity is above doubt." 

" And your informant? " 

" Benilo, the Chamberlain." 

" And whence this sudden world weariness? " 

" The mastering grief for the death of his wife." 

Stephania fell to musing. 

" Benilo," she spoke after a time, " has his own ends in 
view not yours. Trust him not! " 

Crescentius felt a strange misgiving as he remembered his 
late discourse with the Chamberlain, and the latter s suggestion, 
the primary cause of his visit to Stephania s apartments. 

" I fear you mistrust him needlessly," he said after a pause. 
" Benilo s friendship for the emperor is but the mantle, under 
which he conceals the lever that shall raise the Lathi world." 

Stephania gazed absently into space. 

" As I lay dreaming in the evening light, looking out upon 
the city, which you should rule, by reason of your name, by 
reason of your descent, of a truth, I did marvel at your 
patience." 

A laugh of bitter scorn broke from the Senator s lips. 

" Can the living derive force and energy from a past, that is 
forgotten? Rome does not want tragedies! It wants to be 
danced to, sung to and amused. Anything to make the rabble 
forget their own abasement. * Panem et Circenses has 
been for ever their cry." 

" Yet ours is a glorious race ! Of a blood which has flowed 
untarnished in the veins of our ancestors for centuries. It 

104 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

has been our proud boast, that not a drop of the mongrel 
blood of foreign invaders ever tainted our own. It is not for 
the Roman rabble I grieve, it is for ourselves." 

" You have wondered at my patience, Stephania, at my 
endurance of the foreign yoke, at my seeming indifference to 
the traditions of our house. Would you, after all, counsel 
rebellion? " 

" I would but have you remember, that you are a Roman," 
Stephania replied with her deep-toned voice. " Stephania s 
husband, and too good to hold an emperor s stirrup." 

" Then indeed you sorely misjudge me, if you think that 
under this outward mask of serene submission there slumbers 
a spirit indifferent to the cause of Rome. If the prediction of 
Nilus is true, we have not much time to lose. Send the girl 
away! It is not well that she hear too much." 

The last words, spoken in a whisper, caused Stephania to 
dismiss the Greek maid. Then she said: 

" And do you too, my lord, believe in these monkish 
dreams? " 

" The world cannot endure forever." 

Crescentius paused, glanced round the apartment, as if to 
convince himself that there was no other listener. Then he 
rose, and strode to the curtain, which screened the entrance 
to an inner chamber. Not until he had convinced himself 
that they were alone, did he resume his seat by the side of 
Stephania. Then he spoke in low and cautious accents: 

" I have brooded over the present state, until I am well 
nigh mad. I have brooded ever since the first tidings of Otto s 
approach reached the city, how to make a last, desperate dash 
for freedom and our old rights. I have conceived a plan, as 
yet known to none but to myself. Too many hunters spoil 
the chase. We cannot count on the people. Long fasts and 
abstinences have made them cowards. Let them listen to the 
monks ! Let them howl their Misereres ! I will not break into 

105 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

their rogue s litany nor deprive them of their chance in pur 
gatory." 

He paused for a moment, as if endeavouring to bring order 
into his thoughts, then he continued, slowly. 

" It is but seemly that the Romans in some way requite 
the affection so royally showered on them by the German 
King. Therefore it is in my mind to arrange such festivities 
in honour of Otto s return from the shrines of Monte Gargano, 
as shall cause him to forget the burden of government." 

" And enhance his love for our sunny land, " Stephania 
interposed. 

" That malady is incurable," Crescentius replied. " Otto 
is a fantastic. He dreams of making Rome the capital of the 
earth, a madness harmless in itself, were it not for Bruno 
in the chair of St. Peter. Single handed their efforts might be 
stemmed. Their combined frenzy will sweep everything before 
it. These festivities are to dazzle the eyes of the stalwart 
Teutons whose commander is a very Cerberus of watch 
fulness. Under the cover of merry-making I shall introduce 
into Castel San Angelo such forces from the Calabrian themes 
as will supplant the lack of Roman defenders. And as for 
the Teutons their souls will be ours through our women ; 
their bodies through our men." 

Crescentius paused. Stephania too was silent, less sur 
prised at the message than its suddenness. She had never 
wholly despaired of him. Now his speech revealed to her 
that Crescentius could be as crafty in intrigue as he was bold 
in warfare. Proud as she was and averse to dissimulation 
the intrigue unmasked by the Senator yet fascinated her, as 
the only means to reach the long coveted goal. " Rome for 
the Romans " had for generations been the watchword of her 
house and so little pains had she taken to disguise her feelings 
that when upon some former occasion Otto had craved an 
audience of her, an unheard of condescension, inspired as much 

1 06 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

by her social position as by the fame of her unrivalled beauty, 
the imperial envoy had departed with an ill-disguised rebuff, 
and Stephania had shut herself up within the walls of a 
convent till Otto and his hosts had returned beyond the Alps. 

" Within one week, Eckhardt is to be consecrated," Cres- 
centius continued with slight hesitation, as if not quite assured 
of the directness of his arguments with regard to the request 
he was about to prefer. " Every pressure is being brought 
to bear upon him, to keep him true to his purpose. Even a 
guard is at Benilo s instigation to be placed at the portals 
of St. Peter s to prevent any mischance whatsoever during the 
ceremony." 

He paused, to watch the effect of his speech upon Stephania 
and to ascertain if he dared proceed. But as he gazed into 
the face of the woman he loved, he resolved that not a shadow 
of suspicion should ever cloud that white brow, caressed by 
the dark wealth of her silken hair. 

" The German leader removed for ever," Crescentius con 
tinued, " immured alive within the inexorable walls of the 
cloister small is indeed the chance for another German 
victory." 

" But will King Otto acquiesce to lose his great leader? " 

" Benilo is fast supplanting Eckhardt hi Otto s favour. 
Benilo wishes what Otto wishes. Benilo sees what Otto sees. 
Benilo speaks what Otto thinks. Rome is pacified; Rome is 
content; Rome is happy; what need of heavy armament? 
Eckhardt reviles the Romans, he reviles Benilo, he reviles 
the new state, he insists upon keeping his iron hosts 
in the Neronian field, within sight of Castel San Angelo. 
It was to be Benilo or Eckhardt you know the result." 

" But if you were deceived," Stephania replied with a 
shudder. " Your eagle spirit often ascends where mine fails 
to follow. Yet, be not over-bold." 

" I am not deceived ! I bide my time. Tis not by force 

107 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

men slay the rushing bull. Otto would regenerate the 
Roman world. But he himself is to be the God of his new 
state, a jealous God who brooks no rival only subjects or 
slaves. He has nursed this dream until it is part of himself, 
of his own flesh and blood. What may you expect of a youth, 
who, not content to absorb the living, calls the dead to his aid? 
He shall nevermore recross the Alps alive." 

Crescentius tone grew gloomy as he continued. 

" I bear the youth no grudge, nor ill-will. But Rome 
cannot share. He has a power of which he is himself un 
conscious; it is the inheritance from his Hellenic mother. 
Were he conscious of its use, hardly the grave would be a safe 
refuge for us. Once Rome triumphed over Hellas. Shall 
Hellas trample Rome in the dust in the person of this boy, 
whose unspoken word will sweep our old traditions from the 
soil? " 

" But this power, this weakness as you call it what is 
it? " Stephania interposed, raising her head questioningly. 
" I know you have not scrutinized the armour, which encases 
that fantastic soul, without an effort to discover a flaw." 

" And I have discovered it," Crescentius replied, his heart 
beating strangely. Stephania herself was leading up to the 
fatal subject of his visit; but in the depths of his soul he 
trembled for fear of himself, and wished he had not come. 

" And what have you discovered? " Stephania persisted 
curiously. 

" The weak spot in the armour," he replied, avoiding her gaze. 

" Is there a remedy? " 

" We lack but the skilful physician." 

Stephania raised herself from her recumbent position. 
With pale and colourless face she stared at the speaker. 

" Surely you would not resort to " 

She paused, her lips refusing to utter the words. 

Crescentius shook his head. 

1 08 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

" If such were my desire, the steel of John of the Catacombs 
were swifter. No, it is not like that," he continued musingly, 
as if testing the ground inch by inch, as he advanced. " A 
woman s hand must lead the youth to the fateful brink. A 
woman must enwrap him and entrap him; a woman must 
cull the hidden secrets from his heart ; a woman must make 
him forget time and eternity, forget the volcano, on whose 
crater he stands, until the great bell of the Capitol shall 
toll the hour of doom for German dominion in Rome." 

He paused, trembling, lest she might read and anticipate 
the thoughts of his heart. 

But she seemed not to guess them, for with a smile she said : 

" They say the boy has never loved." 

" Thereon have I built my plans. Some Circe must be 
found to administer to him the fatal lotus, to estrange 
him from his country, from his leaders, from his hosts." 

" But where is one to be trusted so supremely? " she 
questioned. 

Crescentius had anticipated the question. 

" There is but one in all Rome but one." 

" And she? " the question came almost in a whisper. " Do 
you know her? " 

Crescentius breathed hard. For a moment he closed his 
eyes, praying inwardly for courage. At last he replied with 
seeming indifference: 

" I have known her long. She is loyal to Rome and true to 
herself." 

" Her name? " she insisted. 

" Stephania." 

A wild laugh resounded in the chamber. Its echoes seemed 
to mock those two, who faced each other, trembling, colourless. 

" That was Benilo s advice." 

Like a knife-thrust the words from Stephania s lips pierced 
the heart of the Senator of Rome. 

109 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Stephania stared at him in such bewilderment, as if she 
thought him mad. But when he remained silent, when she 
read hi his downcast eyes the mute confirmation of his speech, 
she sprang from her couch, facing him in the whole splen 
dour of her beauty. 

" Surely you are jesting, my lord, or else you rave, you are 
mad? " she cried. " Or can it be, that my ears tinkle with 
some mockery of the fiend? Speak! You have not said it! 
You did not! You dared not." 

She removed a stray lock of hair from her snow white brow, 
while her eyes burnt into those of Crescentius, like two orbs 
of living fire. 

" Your ears did not belie you, Stephania," the Senator said 
at last. " I said you are the one the only one." 

With these words he took her hands in his and attempted to 
draw her down beside him, but she tore them from his grasp, 
while her face alternately paled and flushed. 

" Nay," she spoke with cutting irony, " the Senator of Rome 
is a model husband. He disdains the dagger and poison 
phial, instead he barters his wife. You have an admirable code 
of morality, my lord! Tis a pity I do not share your views, 
else the fiend might teach me how to profit by your suggestion." 

Crescentius did not interrupt the flow of her indignation, 
but his face betrayed a keenness of anguish which did not 
escape Stephania s penetrating gaze. She approached him and 
laying her hands on his shoulders bade him look her in the eye. 

" How could you say this to me? " she spoke in softer, yet 
reproachful tones. " How could you? Has it come to the 
pass where Rome can but be saved by the arts of a wanton? 
If so, then let Rome perish, and we ourselves be buried under 
her ruins." 

Her eyes reflected her noble, undaunted spirit and never had 
Stephania appeared more beautiful to the Senator, her husband. 

" Your words are the seal of loyalty upon your soul, Ste- 

no 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

phania," Crescentius replied. " Think you, I would cast 
away my jewel, cast it before these barbarians? But you do 
not understand. I will be more plain. It was not that part 
you were to assume." 

Stephania resumed her seat by his side. Her bosom heaved 
and her eyes peered dimly through a mist of tears. 

" Of all the hosts who crossed the Alps with him," Cres 
centius spoke with a voice, unsteady at first, but gradually 
gaming the strength of his own convictions, " none shares the 
emperor s dreams, none his hopes of reconstruction. An 
embassy from the Palatinate is even now on the way, to demand 
his return. Not he ! But there is one, the twin of his mind 
and soul Gregory the Pontiff, who will soon have his hands 
full with a refractory Conclave, and will not be able to succour 
his friend in the realization of his fantastic dreams. He must 
be encouraged, his watchfulness beguiled until we are 
strong enough to strike the final blow. Only an intellect 
equal to his own dares assail the task. He must be led by a 
firm hand, by a hand which he trusts but by a hand never 
forgetful of its purpose, a hand closed to bribery of chattel or 
soul. He must be ruled by a mind that grasps all the strange 
excrescences of his own diseased brain. Let him build up his 
fantastic dream-empire, while Rome rallies her forces for a 
final reckoning, then let the mirage dissolve. This is the part 
I had assigned to you. I can entrust it to none else. Our hopes 
hang upon the fulfilment. Thus, his hosts dissatisfied, the 
electors muttering beyond the Alps, the Romans awakening 
to their own disgrace, the king at odds with his leaders 
and himself, the pontiff menaced by the hostile Cardinals, there 
is one hope left to us, to crush the invaders our last. If it 
miscarries, there will not be gibbets enough in the Cam- 
pagna for the heads that will swing." 

Stephania had gradually regained her composure. Raising 
her eyes to those of Crescentius, she said with hesitation : 

in 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" There is truth in your words, but I like not the task. I 
hate Otto with all my Roman heart; with all my soul do I 
hate that boy whose lofty aims shame our depravity. Tis 
an ill time for masks and mummeries. Why not entrust the 
task to the one so eminently fitted for it, Benilo, the glittering 
snake? " 

" There will be work enough for all of us," Crescentius 
replied evasively. Somehow he hated to admit even to his 
wife, that he mistrusted the Chamberlain s serpent wisdom. 
He had gone too far. He dared not recede without betraying 
his own misgivings. 

Stephania heaved a deep sigh. 

" What would you have me do? " 

" You have so far studiously avoided the king. You have 
not even permitted him to feast his eyes on the most beautiful 
woman in all Rome. Be gracious to him, enter into his 
vagaries, point out to him old temples and forgotten tombs, 
newly dug-up friezes and musty crypts ! Tell him of our legends 
and lead him back into the past, from whose labyrinth no 
Ariadne will guide him back to the present hour, - It is for 
Rome I ask." 

" Truly, were I a man, I would not trap my foe by woman s 
wiles, as long as I could grip mace or lance. Is there no man 
among all these Romans of yours treacherous enough for 
the task? " 

" It is even their treachery I dread," replied Crescentius. 
" Ambition or the lust of gain may at the last moment carry 
victory from the field. My maxim, you know: Trust none 
Fear none! These festivities are to dazzle the aim of sus 
picion, to attach the people once more to our cause and to 
give you the desired opportunity to spread your nets. Then 
lead him step for step away from life, until he shall himself 
become but a spectre of the past." 

" It is a game unworthy of you and me," Stephania replied 

112 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

after a long pause. " To beguile a trusting foe but the end? 
What is it to be? " 

" Once in the councils of the king, you will lull his sus 
picions to slumber! You will counteract the pressure of his 
flaxen-haired leaders! You will make him a puppet hi your 
hands, that has no will save yours. Then sound the watch 
word: Rome and Crescentius! " 

" I too love glory," Stephania spoke almost inaudibly. 
" Glory achieved by valour, not intrigue. Give me time, my 
lord. As yet I hardly know if I am fitted for the high mission 
you have laid out for me. Give me but time." 

" There shall be no further mention of this matter between 
us," Crescentius replied. " You will be worthy of your self 
and of Rome, whose fates I have laid into your hands. The 
task is grave, but great will be the reward. Where will the 
present state lead to? Is there to be no limit to humiliation? 
Is every rebellion unlawful? Has Fate stamped on our brow, 
Suffer and be silent ? " 

" For whom then is this comedy to be enacted? " 

Crescentius shrugged his shoulders. 

" Say for ourselves if you will. Deem you, Stephania, I 
would put my head in the sling for that howling mob down 
yonder in their hovels? For the rabble which would stone him, 
who gives them bread ? Or for the barons of Rome, who 
have encroached upon our sovereignty ? If Fate will but grant 
me victory, their robber dens shall crumble into dust, as if 
an earthquake had levelled them. For this I have planned this 
Comedy of Love for this alone." 

Stephania slowly rose from her seat beside the Senator. 
Every vestige of colour had faded from her face. 

" Surely I have not heard aright," she said. " Did you say 
Comedy of Love ? " 

Crescentius laughed, a low but nervous laugh. 

" Why stare you so, Stephania, as if I bade you in all truth 

"3 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

to betray me? Is it so hard to feign a little affection for 
this wingless cherub whom you are to mould to your fancies? 
The choice is his, until " 

" Until it is his no longer," Stephania muttered under her 
breath, which quickly came and went. 

There was a pause of some duration, during which the 
Senator of Rome restlessly paced the apartment. Stephania 
had resumed her former station and seemed lost in deep 
rumination. From without no sounds were audible. The 
city slept. The evening star burnt low down in the horizon. 
The moon sickle slept on the crests of the mountains of Albano. 

At last Stephania rose and laid her white arm on the shoulder 
of the Senator of Rome. 

" I will do your bidding," she said slowly, looking straight 
into his eyes, " for the glory of Rome and your own! " 

" For our glory," Crescentius replied with a deep sigh of 
relief. " I knew you would not fail me in this hour of need." 

Stephania raised her hand, as if deprecating the reward. 

" For your glory alone, my lord, it will suffice for both 
of us," she replied hurriedly, as her arms sank down by her 
side. 

" Be it so, since you so wish it," Crescentius replied. " I 
thank you, Stephania! And now farewell. It waxes late and 
grave matters of state require my instant attention. Await 
not my return to-night." 

And kissing her brow, Crescentius hurriedly left his wife s 
apartment and ascended a spiral stairway, leading to the 
chamber of his astrologer. Suddenly he staggered, as if he 
had seen his own ghost and turned sick at heart. 

" What have I done ! " he gasped, grasping his forehead 
with both hands. " What have I done! " 

Was it a presentiment that suddenly rushed over him, 
prompting him to retrace his steps, prompting him to take 
back his request? For a moment he wavered. His pride and 

114 



CASTEL SAN ANGELO 

his love struggled for supremacy, but pride conquered. 
He would not have Stephania think that he feared a rival on 
earth. He would not have her believe that he questioned 
her love. 

After Crescentius had departed from the chamber, Stephania 
gazed long and wistfully into the starlit night without, so 
calm and so serene. 

Then a laugh, wild and shrill, broke from her lips, and 
sinking back among her cushions, a shower of tears came to 
her relief. 



CHAPTER IX 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 




HE Contubernium Hebraeorum, 
as it is loftily styled in the 
pontifical edicts of the time, 
the Roman Ghetto, was a dis 
trict of considerable extent, 
reclaimed originally from the 
swamps of the Tiber at the foot 
of the Capitoline Hill, and sur 
rounded either by lofty walls, 
or houses which were not per 
mitted to have even a loop-hole to the exterior. Five massive 
gates, guarded by the halberdiers of the Roman magistrate 
were opened at sun-rise and closed at sun-set to emit and to 
receive back their jealously guarded inmates, objects of un 
utterable contempt and loathing with the populace, into whose 
heart the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages had infused a 
veneration and love for the person of the Redeemer rather 
than for his attributes, and whose passions and devotions were 
as yet unalloyed by the skepticism and indifference which 
began to pervade the higher ranks of society in the century 
of the Renaissance. 

Three or four times a year, a grand attempt at conversion 
was made, the Pope appointing the most renowned ecclesiastics 
to deliver the sermons. 

On the occasion about to be described towards the end of 
the year 999, the Jews had good reason to expect a more than 
commonly devout throng in the train of the pontifical delegate. 

116 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

They had prepared accordingly. Upon entering the gates of 
the Ghetto the beholder was struck with the dreary and melan 
choly aspect of the houses and the emptiness of the little shops 
which appeared like holes in the walls. Such precious wares 
as they possessed had been as carefully concealed as those 
they had abstracted on the eve of their departure from Egypt. 
The exceeding narrowness of the streets, which were in some 
parts scarcely wide enough to allow two persons to walk 
abreast, and seemed in a manner arched, in-as-much as one 
story extended above the others, increased the disagreeable 
effect. Noisome smells greeted the nostrils on every turn and 
the flutter of rags from numerous dark lattices seemed to 
testify to the poverty within. 

Such the Roman Ghetto appeared on the eve of the great 
harangue for which the reigning Pontiff, Gregory V, had, in 
accordance with the tradition of the Holy See, delegated the 
most renowned light of the church. Not a Jew was to be seen, 
much less a Jewess, throughout the whole line of march from 
the gates of the Ghetto to the large open square where they 
held their markets, and where they had been summoned to 
assemble in mass. The long narrow and intricate windings 
misled many who did not keep pace with the Pope s delegate 
and his attendants, but the greater part of the rabble rushed 
into the square like a mountain stream, leaping over opposing 
boulders, shouting, laughing, yelling and crushing one another, 
as if they were taking possession of a conquered city. 

The square itself was paved with volcanic tufa, very un 
evenly laid. In the center was a great fountain of granite 
without the least ornament, intended exclusively for the use of 
the inmates of this dreary quarter. Into this square radiated 
numberless streets and alleys giving its disordered architecture 
the appearance of being reft and split into chasms, some of the 
houses being doubtfully propped with timbers. 

Round the fountain stone benches had been arranged with 

117 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

tables of similar crude material, at which usually sat the 
Elders, who decided all disputes, regulated the market and 
governed this inner empire partly by the maxims of common 
sense and justice, partly by the laws prescribed by their sacred 
books, severe indeed and executed with rigour, without 
provoking a thought of appeal to the milder and often opposing 
Christian judicature. 

But now this Sanhedrim was installed in its place of honour 
for a different purpose; to hear with outward complacency 
and inner abhorrence their ancient law denounced and its 
abolition or reform advocated. For this purpose a movable 
pulpit, which resembled a bronze caldron on a tripod, carried 
by four Jewish converts, was duly planted under the supreme 
direction of ihe companion friar of the pontifical delegate, 
who ordered its position reversed several times, ere it seemed 
to suit his fancy. 

The delegate of the Pope himself, surrounded by the pontifical 
guards, was still kneeling in silent prayer, when a stranger, 
who had followed the procession from afar, entered the Ghetto, 
unremarked in the general tumult and esconced himself out 
of observation in a dark doorway. From his point of vantage, 
Eckhardt had leisure to survey the whole pandemonium. 
On his left there rose an irregular pile of wood-work, built not 
without some pretentions to architecture, with quaint carvings 
and devices of birds and beasts on the exposed joints and win 
dow-frames, but in a state of ruinous decay. About midheight 
sloped a pent-house with a narrow balcony, supported like many 
of the other buildings by props of timber, set against it from 
the ground. The lower part of the house was closed and barred 
and had the appearance of having been forsaken for decades. 

While, himself unseen Eckhardt surveyed every detail of 
his surroundings ; the preparations for the sermon continued. 
Beyond the seats of the Elders was assembled the great mass 
of those who were to profit by the exhortation, remarkable 

118 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

for their long unkempt beards, their glittering eyes and their 
peculiar physiognomies. 

Beyond the circle of these compelled neophytes a tumultuous 
mob struggled for the possession of every point, whence a view 
of the proceedings could be obtained, quarrelling, scoffing and 
buffeting the unresisting Jews, whose policy it was not to offer 
the least pretext for pillage and general massacre, which on 
these occasions hovered over their heads by a finer thread 
than that to which hung the sword of Damocles. Without 
expostulations they submitted to the rude swaying of the mob, 
to their blows and revilings, opposing to their tormentors a 
seemingly inexhaustible endurance. But the horror, anxiety, 
and rage which glowed in their bosoms were strongly reflected 
in their faces, peering through the smoky glare of innumerable 
torches, which they were compelled to exhibit at all the windows 
of their houses. Engaged in this office only now and then a 
woman appeared for a brief instant, for the most part withered 
and old, or veiled and muffled with more than Turkish scrupu 
lousness. 

At last the pulpit was duly hoisted and placed to the satis 
faction of the attending friar. The Pope s delegate having 
concluded his prayer arose and two of the Elders advanced, 
to present him with a copy of the Old Testament, for from their 
own laws were they to be refuted. They offered it with a deep 
Oriental bend and the humble request, that the representative 
of his Holiness, their sovereign, would be pleased to deliver his 
message. The monk replied briefly that it was not the message 
of any earthly power which he was there to deliver and then 
mounted the pulpit by a ladder, which his humbler associate 
held for him. The attendant friar then sprinkled a lustration 
round the pulpit with a bunch of hyssop, which he had dipped 
in an urn of holy water. This he showered liberally upon the 
Elders who dared not resent it, and ground their teeth in 
impotent rage. 

119 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Strangely interested, as Eckhardt found himself in the 
scene about to be enacted, watching the rolling human sea 
under the dark blue night-sky, he found his own curiosity 
shared by a second personage, who had taken his position 
immediately below the door- way, in which he stood concealed. 
This worthy wore a large hat, slouched over his face, which 
gave him the appearance of a peasant from the marshes; but 
bis dirty gray mantle and crooked staff denoted him a pilgrim. 
Of his features very little was to be seen, save his glittering 
minx-eyes. These he kept fixed on the balcony of the ruined 
house, which had also attracted Eckhardt s attention. At 
other times that worthy s gaze searched the shadows be 
neath the gloomy structure with something of mingled 
scrutiny and scorn. 

" Surely this boasted steel-hearted knave of yours means 
to play us false ? Where is the rogue ? He keeps us waiting 
long." 

These words, as Eckhardt perceived, were addressed to an 
individual, who, to judge from the mask he wore, did not wish 
to be recognized. 

" Were it against the fiend, I would warrant him," answered 
a hushed voice. " But folks here have a great reverence for 
this holy man, who goes to comfort a plague-stricken patient 
more cheerfully than another visits his lady-love. And, if 
he needs must die, were it not wiser to venture the de^d in 
some of the lonely places he haunts, than here hi the midst 
of thousands ? " 

" Nay," replied his companion in an undertone, every 
word of which was understood by his unseen listener. 
" Here alone can a tumult be raised without much danger, 
and as easily quelled. I do not set forests on fire, to warm 
my feet. Here they will lay the mischief to the Jews else 
where, suspicion would be quickly aroused, for what bravo 
would deem it worth his while to slay a wretched monk ? " 

120 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

Again the pseudo-pilgrim s associate peered into the shadows. 
Then he plucked his companion by the sleeve of his mantle. 

" Yonder he comes and by all my sins streaming like 
a water-dog! Raise your staff, but no he sees us," con 
cluded the masked individual, shrinking back into the shadows. 

Presently a third individual joined the pilgrim and his 
friend. 

" Don Giovan ! Thou dog ! How long hast kept me gaping 
for thee! " the principal speaker hissed into the bravo s face 
as he limping approached. " But, by the mass, who baptized 
thee so late in life ? " 

There was something demoniacal in the sunken, cadaverous 
countenance of John of the Catacombs, as he peered into the 
speaker s eyes. His ashen-pale face with the low brow and 
inflamed eyelids, never more fittingly illustrated a living 
sepulchre. He growled some inarticulate reponse, half stifled 
by impotent rage and therefore lost upon his listener. For at 
this moment the voice of the preacher was heard above all 
the confused noise and din in the large square, reading a He 
brew text, which he subsequently translated into Latin. It 
was the powerful voice of the speaker, which prevented Eck- 
hardt from distinctly hearing the account which the bravo 
gave of his forced immersion. But towards the conclusion of 
his talk, the pilgrim drew the bravo deeper into the shadows 
of the overhanging balcony and now their conversation became 
more distinct. 

" Dog of a villain! " he addressed John of the Catacombs. 
" How dare you say that you will fail me in this ? Have you 
forgotten our compact ? " 

" That I have not, my lord," replied the bravo, shuddering 
with fear and the cold of his dripping garments. " But an 
angel was sent for the prevention of the deed ! No man would 
have braved John of the Catacombs and lived." 

" Thou needest not proclaim my rank before all this rabble," 

121 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

growled the pseudo-pilgrim. " Have I not warned thee, idiot ? 
Deemest thou an angel would have touched thee, without 
blasting thee ? What had thine assailant to do to stir up 
the muddy waves ? An angel ! Coward ? Is the bribe not 
large enough ? Name thine own hire then ! " 

" A pyramid of gold shall not bribe me to it," replied the 
bravo doggedly. " But I am a true man and will keep no 
hire which I have not earned. So come with me to the cata 
combs, and I will restore all I have received of your gold. 
But the saints protect that holy man I will not touch 
him!" 

The pilgrim regarded the speaker with ill-repressed rage. 

" Holy maybe ," he sneered, " holy, according to thy 
country s proverb : La Cruz en los pechos, el diablo en los 
hechos. Thou superstitious slave! What has one like thou 
to fear from either angel or devil ? " 

" May my soul never see paradise, if I lift steel against that 
holy man ! " persisted the bravo. 

"Fool! Cowara! Beast!" snarled the pilgrim, gnashing 
his teeth like a baffled tiger. " You refuse, when this monk s 
destruction will set the mob in such roaring mutiny as will 
give your noble associates, whom I see swarming from afar, 
a chance to commence a work that will enrich you for ever ? " 

" For ever ? " repeated the bravo, somewhat dubiously. 
" But it is impossible. See you not he is surrounded by 
the naked swords of the guards ? I thought he would have 
come darkling through some narrow lane, according to his 
wont, else I should never moreover I have taken an oath, 
my lord, and a man would not willingly damn himself ! " 

" Will you ever and ever forget my injunction and how 
much depends upon its observance? " snarled the disguised 
pilgrim, looking cautiously around. " I warn you again, not 
to proclaim my rank before all your cut-throats! You swore," 
he then continued more sedately, " not to lift steel against 

122 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

him! But have I not seen you bring down an eagle s flight 
with your cross-bow ? Where is it ? " 

" I have sold it to some foreign lord, from beyond the 
Alps, where they love such distant fowling," the bravo re 
plied guardedly. " I for my part prefer to steal my game with 
a club, or a dagger." 

" You have no choice! Wait! I think I can yet provide 
you with a weapon such as you require! I have for some 
time observed yonder worthy, whoever he may be, staring at 
that old bower, as if it contained some enchanted princess," 
said the pilgrim, emerging slightly from under the shadows 
of the doorway and beckoning John of the Catacombs to his 
side. This movement brought the two for the third seemed 
to be engaged in a look-out for probable danger closer 
to Eckhardt, but luckily without coming in contact with 
him, for it may be conjectured that he had no desire to 
expose himself to a conflict in the dark, with three such 
opponents. 

The personage indicated by the disguised pilgrim had in 
deed for some time been engaged in scrutinizing the form of 
a young girl, who, seemingly attracted by the novelty of the 
scene below had appeared behind a window of the apparently 
deserted house, vainly soliciting her attentions with gestures 
and smiles. He was of middling height, but very stout and 
burly of frame, a kind of brutal good humour and joviality 
being not entirely unmingled with his harsher traits. 

" By the mass ! " the disguised pilgrim turned to the object 
of his scrutiny, in whom we recognize no lesser a personage 
than Gian Vitelozzo, as he cautiously approached and saluted 
him. " I see your eyes are caught too ! " 

He winked at the window which seemed to hold the fascina 
tion for the other, then nodded approval. 

" Saw you ever a prettier piece of flesh and blood ? " 

" Yet she looks more like a waxen image than a woman 

123 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

of the stuff you mention, Sir Pilgrim," returned the nobleman 
in a barbarous jargon of tenth century Latin. 

" She is poisoned by the stench amid which she lives, and 
it were charity to take her out of it," replied the pilgrim, 
with a swift glance at the cross-bow slung over the other s 
shoulders. 

" Ay, by the mass! You speak truth! " affirmed Vitelozzo, 
while a fourth personage, whom he had not heretofore observed, 
had during their discourse emerged from the shadows and 
had silently joined the survey. 

" Would the whole Ghetto were put to plunder! " sighed 
the baron, turning to the pilgrim, " but I am under severe 
penance now by order of the Vicar of the Church." 

" You must indeed have wrought some special deed of 
grace, to need his intercession," the pilgrim sneered with 
disgusting familiarity. 

Vitelozzo peered into the face of his interlocutor, doubtful 
whether to resent the pleasantry or to feel flattered. Then he 
shrugged his shoulders. 

" Twas but for relieving an old man of some few evil days 
of pains and aches," he then replied carelessly. " But since 
we are at questioning, what merit is yours to travel so far 
with the cockle-shells ? Surely twas not just to witness the 
crumbling of this planet into its primeval dust ? " 

" They say I killed my brother," replied the disguised 
pilgrim coldly. 

" Mine was but my uncle," said Vitelozzo eagerly, as if 
rejoicing in the comparative inferiority of his crime. " Tis 
true he had pampered me, when a child, but who can wait 
for ever for an inheritance ? " 

" Ay and old men never die," replied the pseudo-pilgrim 
gloomily. " You are a bold fellow and no doubt a soldier too," 
he continued, simulating ignorance of the other s rank, in 
order to gain his point. " I have been a good part of mine 

124 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

a silly monk. As you see, I am still in the weeds. Yet I will 
wager, that I dare do the very thing, which you are even now 
but daring to think." 

" What am I thinking then ? I pray your worship enlighten 
my poor understanding," replied the nobleman sarcastically. 

" You are marking how conveniently those timbers are set 
to the balcony of yonder crow s nest, for a man to climb up 
unobserved, and that you would be glad if you could summon 
the courage to scale it to the scorn of this circumcized mob," 
said the pilgrim. 

Vitelozzo laughed scornfully. 

" For the fear of it ? I have clambered up many a strong 
wall with only my dagger s aid, when boiling lead poured down 
among us like melting snow and the devil himself would have 
kept his foot from the ladder. But," he concluded as if re 
membering that it behooved not his own dignity to continue 
parley with the pilgrim, " who are you, that you dare bandy 
words with me ? " 

The pilgrim considered it neither opportune nor discreet to 
introduce himself. 

" My staff against your cross-bow," he replied boastfully 
instead. " You dare not attempt it and I will succeed in it! " 

" By the foul fiend! Not until I have failed," replied Vite 
lozzo, colouring. " Hold my cross-bow while I climb. But 
if you mean mischief or deceit, know better than to practise 
it, for I am not what I seem, but a great lord, who would as 
soon crack your empty pate as an egg! " 

The pseudo-pilgrim replied apparently with some warmth, 
but as the preacher s tone now rose above the surrounding 
buzz only the conclusion of his speech was audible, wherein 
he declared that he would restore the noble s cross-bow or 
rouse his friends to his assistance in the event of danger. 
This compact concluded Eckhardt noted that the Roman 
baron gave his helmet, cross-bow and other accoutrements, 

125 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

which were likely to prove an impediment, into the care of 
the pilgrim, and prepared to accomplish his insolent purpose. 

The disguised pilgrim, whose identity Eckhardt had vainly 
endeavoured to estabish, now retired instantly and rejoined 
his companions, who had been eagerly listening in their con 
cealment under the doorway. The newcomer, who had for 
a time swelled their number, had retreated unobserved after 
having concluded his observations, as it seemed, to his satis 
faction, for Eckhardt saw him nod to himself ere he vanished 
from sight. 

" Here then is a weapon, Don Giovan, if you would not 
rather have the point in your own skull," the pilgrim said, 
handing the bravo a small bow of peculiar construction which 
Vitelozzo was wont to carry on his fowling expeditions, as he 
styled his nightly excursions. 

" Moreover," the pilgrim continued encouragingly, noting 
the manifest reluctance on the part of the bravo, " I have 
caused you a pretty diversion. When the tumult, which this 
villain will raise, shall begin, you have but to adjust the arrow 
and watch the monk s associate. When he raises his hand 
let fly! " 

John of the Catacombs shivered, but did not reply, while 
Eckhardt scrutinized the monk indicated by the pilgrim, 
as well as the glare of the torches and their delusive light 
would permit. But his face being averted, he again turned 
his attention to the trio in the shadows below. 

The pontifical delegate meanwhile continued his sermon as 
unconcerned as if his deadliest enemy did not stand close beside 
him ready to imprint on his brow the pernicious kiss of Judas. 

" Fear you aught for your foul carcass and the thing you 
call your soul ? " the pilgrim snarled, seemingly exasperated 
by the reluctance of the instrument to obey the master s behest. 
" Fear you for your salvation, when so black a wretch as 
Vitelozzo for I know the ruffian, who slew his benefactor, 

126 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

hazards both for a fool s frolic ? The monk is a fair mark ! 
Look but at him perched in the pulpit yonder, with his arms 
spread out as if he would fly straightway to heaven ! " 

" He looks like a black crucifixion," muttered the bravo 
with a shudder. 

" Tush, fool ! You can easily conceal yourself in these 
shadows, for the blame will fall on the Jews and the uproar 
which I will raise at different extremities of the crowd will 
divert all attention from the perpetrator of the deed! " 

John of the Catacombs seemed to yield gradually to the 
force of the other s arguments. The deed accomplished, it had 
been agreed that they would dive into the very midst of the 
congested throngs and urge the inflamed minds to the exter 
mination of the hated race of the Ghetto. 

Eckhardt s consternation upon listening to this devilish 
plot was so great, that for a time he lost sight of the would- 
be assailant of the young girl, whom he was unable to see 
from his concealment almost directly beneath the balcony. 
Again he was staggered by the dilemma confronting him, 
how best to direct his energies for the prevention of the double 
crime. To rush forth and, giving a signal to the pontifical 
guards, to proclaim the intended treachery, would perhaps in 
any other country, age or place have been sufficient to counter 
act the plot. But in this case it was most likely to secure the 
triumph of the offenders. It was far from improbable, that 
the projectors of this deed of darkness, upon finding their 
sinister designs baffled, would fall combined upon whosoever 
dared to cross their path, and silence him for ever ere he had 
time to reveal their real purpose. In the rancorous irritation 
and mutually suspicious state of men s minds the least spark 
might kindle a universal blaze. The fears and hatred of both 
parties would probably interpret the first flash of steel into a 
signal for preconcerted massacre and the very consequences 
sought to be averted would inevitably follow. 

127 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

A further circumstance which baffled Eckhardt was the 
cause of the implacable hatred, which the moving spirit of the 
trio seemed to bear the pontifical delegate. But the sagacious 
intellect of the man into whose hands fate had so opportunely 
placed a lever for preventing a crime, whose consequences it 
was difficult to even surmise, suggested these dangers and 
their remedies almost simultaneously. Thus he patiently 
awaited the separation of the colleagues on their several enter 
prises, regarding the monk with renewed interest in this new 
and appalling light. 

His tall and commanding form was to be seen from every 
point. The austerity and gloom of the speaker s countenance 
only seemed to aid in displaying more brilliantly the irradia 
tions of the mind which illumined it. His harangue seemed 
imbued with something of supernatural inspiration and dark 
as had appeared to Eckhardt the motive for the contemplated 
crime, the probable reason suddenly flashed through his 
mind. For hi the pulpit stood Gerbert of Aurillac, Archbishop 
of Rheims, Bishop of Ravenna, the teacher of the Emperor, 
the friend of the Pontiff, he who was so soon as Sylvester II 
to be crowned with the Triple Tiara of St. Peter. 

But there was no time for musing if the double crime was 
to be prevented. For John of the Catacombs, who had now 
turned his back on the crowds, had possessed himself of 
Vitelozzo s cross-bow and was tightening the bow-strings. 
With equal caution, to avoid betraying his presence, Eckhardt 
unsheathed his sword. But the jar of the blade against the 
scabbard, though ever so slight, startled the outlaw s atten 
tion. He paused for a moment, listening and glancing fur 
tively about. Then he muttered to himself: "A rat," and 
resumed his occupation, while Eckhardt slowly stepped from 
his concealment, taking his station directly behind the kneeling 
bravo, unseen by the pilgrim and the latter s silent companion. 

A brilliant glow, emanating from some mysterious source 

128 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

near the monk and which many afterwards contended as 
having proceeded directly from his person, suddenly illumined 
not only the square, the pontifical delegate, and the monk, 
who held his arms aloft as if imploring a benediction, but like 
wise the towering form of Eckhardt, leaning on his bare and 
glittering brand. 

With a yell as if he had seen a wild beast crouching for its 
deadly spring, John of the Catacombs sprang up, only to be 
instantly struck down by a mighty blow from the commander s 
gauntleted hand. He lay senseless on the ground, covered 
with blood. The bow had fallen from his grasp. Setting his 
foot on the outlaw s breast, Eckhardt hesitated for a moment 
whether to rid Rome of so monstrous a villain, or spare him, 
in order to learn the real instigators of the crime, when a 
piercing shriek from above convinced him that while the bravo 
had failed, the high-born ruffian had been more successful. 

There was no time for parley. 

Trampling with his crushing weight over the bravo s breast 
Eckhardt turned towards the spot whence the cry of distress 
had come. An intense hush fraught with doubts and fears 
had fallen upon the monk s audience at the ominous outcry, 
a cry which might have been but the signal for some pre 
concerted outrage, and the hush deepened when the tall 
powerful form of the German leader was seen stalking toward 
the deserted house and entering it through a door, which Gian 
Vitelozzo had forced, the obstacle which had luckily prevented 
him from reaching before his unsuspecting victim. The ruffian 
could be seen from below, holding in his arms on the balcony 
the shrieking and struggling girl, disregarding hi his brutal 
eagerness all that passed below. Suddenly his shoulder was 
grasped as in the teeth of a lion, and so powerful was the 
pressure that the noble s arms were benumbed and dropped 
powerlessly by his side. Before he recovered from his surprise 
and could make one single effort at resistance, Eckhardt had 

129 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

seized him round the waist and hurled him down on the square 
amidst a roaring thunder of applause mingled with howls of 
derision and rage. Those immediately beneath the balcony, 
consisting chiefly of the scum and rabble, who cared little for 
the monk s arguments, rejoiced at the prompt retribution 
meted out to one of their oppressors, though the discomfiture 
of the hapless victim had left them utterly indifferent. Why 
should they carry their skin to market to right another s 
wrong ? 

Thus they offered neither obstacle nor assistance when the 
Roman baron, in no wise hurt by his fall, as the balcony was 
at no great height from the ground, rose in a towering rage 
and challenged his assailant to descend and to meet him 
in mortal combat. But by this time the disturbance 
had reached the monk s ears, and at once perceiving the 
cause from his lofty point of vantage, Gerbert shouted 
to his audience to secure the brawler in the name of 
God and the Church. The mob obeyed, though swayed 
by reluctance and doubts, while the pontifical guards 
closed round the offending noble to cut off his escape. But 
Gian Vitelozzo seemed to possess sovereign reasons for dread 
ing to find himself in the custody of the Vicar of the Church 
and promptly took to flight. 

Overthrowing the first who opposed him, the rest offering 
no serious resistance, he forced his way to one of the narrow 
passages of the Ghetto, fled through it, relinquishing his 
accoutrements and vanished in the shadows, which haunted 
this dismal region by day and by night. But Gerbert of Aurillac 
was not to be so easily baffled. He had recognized the Roman 
baron despite his demeaning attire. With a voice of thunder 
he ordered his entire following to the ruffian s pursuit, and 
noting the direction in which Vitelozzo had disappeared, he 
leaped, despite his advanced years, from his pulpit and waving 
a cross high in the air, led the pursuit in person, which in- 

130 



THE SERMON IN THE GHETTO 

augurated a general stampede of nobles, Jews, pilgrims, 
monks and the ever-present rabble of Rome. 

This unforeseen incident having drawn off the crowd, which 
had invaded the Ghetto, in the preacher s wake, the great 
square was quickly deserted and the torches in the high win 
dows were extinguished as if a sudden wind-storm had snuffed 
out their glowing radiance. 



131 



CHAPTER X 




THE SICILIAN DANCER 

FTER a fruitless search for the 
hapless victim of the Roman 
baron s licentiousness, in order 
to restore her hi safety to her 
kindred or friends, Eckhardt 
concluded at last that she had 
found a haven of security and 
turned his back upon the Ghetto 
and its panic-stricken inmates 
without bestowing another 
thought upon an incident, hi itself not uncommon and but 
an evidence of the deep-rooted social disorder of the times. 
His thoughts reverted rather to the attempt upon the life of 
the pontifical delegate, which some happy chance had per 
mitted him to frustrate, but hi vain did he try to fathom the 
reasons prompting a deed, the accomplishment of which seemed 
to hold out such meagre promise of reward to its perpetrators, 
whose persons were enshrouded hi a veil of mystery. Eck 
hardt could only assign personal reasons to an attempt, which, 
if successful, could not enrich the moving spirits of the plot, 
a consideration always uppermost hi men s minds, and ponder 
ing thus over the strange events, the commander aimlessly 
pursued his way in a direction opposite to the one the monk 
and his following had chosen for the pursuit of the baron. 
How long he had thus strolled onward, he knew not, when he 
found himself in the space before the Capitol. The moon 
gleamed pale as an alabaster lamp La the dark azure of the 

132 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

heavens, trembling luminously on the waters of a fountain 
which flowed from beneath the Capitoline rock. 

Here some scattered groups of the populace sat or lolled on 
the ground, discussing the events of the day, jesting, laughing 
or love-making. Others paraded up and down, engaged in 
conversation and enjoying the balmy night air, tinged with the 
breath of departing summer. 

Wearied with thought, Eckhardt made his way to the foun 
tain, and, seated on the margin regardless of the chattering 
groups which continually clustered round it and dispersed, he 
felt his spirits grow calm in the monotony of the gurgling flow 
of the water, which was streaming down the rock and spurting 
from several grotesque mouths of lions and dolphins. The 
stars sparkled over the dark, towering cypresses, which 
crowned the surrounding eminences, and the palaces and ruins 
upon them stood forth hi distinctness of splendour or desola 
tion against the luminous brightness of the moonlit sky. 

Eckhardt s ruminations were interrupted by the sound of a 
tambourine, and looking up from his reverie, he perceived that 
the populace were gathering In a wide circle before the fountain, 
attracted by the sound of the instrument. In the background, 
kept thus remote by the vigilance of an old woman and two 
half-savage Calabrians, who seemed to be the proprietors of 
the show, stood a young woman hi the garb of a Sicilian, 
apparently just preparing to dance. She seemed to belong to 
a class of damsels who were ordained under severe penalties 
to go masked during all religious festivals, to protect the pil 
grims from the influence of their baleful charms. Else there 
could be no reason why an itinerant female juggler or minstrel 
who employed the talents, which the harmonious climate of 
Italy lavishes on its poorest children, to enable them to earn 
a scant living from the rude populace, should affect the modesty 
or precaution of a mask. But her tall, voluptuous form as she 
stood collecting her audience with the ringing chimes of her 

133 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

tambourine, garbed as she was in that graceful Sicilian cos 
tume, which still retains the elegance of its Greek original, 
proved allurement enough despite her mask. While thus 
unconsciously diverting his disturbed fancies, Eckhardt became 
aware, that he had himself attracted the notice of the dancer, 
for he encountered her gaze beaming on him from the depths 
of her green-speckled mask, which its ordainer had intended 
to represent the corruption of disease, but which the humour 
of the populace had transmuted into a more pleasant associa 
tion, by calling them, " Cardinal melons." 

The dancer started from her somewhat listless attitude into 
one of gayety and animation, when she saw how earnestly 
the dark stranger scrutinized her, and tripping across the in 
tervening space, she paused before him and said in a voice 
whose music flowed to his heart in its mingled humility and 
tenderness : 

" Sainted Stranger! Will you disdain dancing the Tarantella 
with a poor Sicilian sinner for the love of Santa Rosalia? " 

" Thou art like to make many for the love of thyself," 
replied Eckhardt. " But it were little seemly to behold a 
sinner in my weeds join hi the dance with one hi thine." 

As he spoke, he peered so intently into the masked visage 
of the Sicilian dancer, that she precipitately retreated. 

" Nay then I must use my spells," she replied after a 
moment s thought, and glancing round the circle, which was 
constantly increasing, she added slowly, " my spells to raise 
the dead, since love and passion are dead in your consecrated 
breast! Mother my mandolin! " 

The smile of her lips seemed to gleam even through her 
mask as she threw her tambourine by its silver chain over her 
shoulders, taking instead the instrument, which one of the 
Calabrians handed to her. Tuning her mandolin she again 
turned to Eckhardt. 

" But first you must fairly answer a question, else I shall 

134 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

not know which of my spells to use: for with some memory 
alone avails, with others hope." 

And without waiting his reply, she began to sing in a voice 
of indescribable sweetness. After the second stanza she paused, 
apparently to await the reply to her question, while a murmur 
of delight ran through the ranks of her listeners. The first 
sound of her voice had fixed Eckhardt s attention, not alone 
for its exquisite purity and sweetness, but the strange, mys 
terious air which hovered round her, despite her demeaning 
attire. 

Yet his reply partook of the asperity of his Northern forests. 

" Deem you such gossamer subtleties were likely to find 
anchorage in this restless breast, which, you hear, I strike and 
it answers with the sound of steel ? " 

" Nay, then so much the worse for you," replied the dancer. 
" For where the pure spirit comes not, the dark one will," 
and she continued her song in a voice of still more mellow and 
alluring sweetness. 

Suddenly she approached him again, her air more mysterious 
than ever. 

"Ah!" she whispered. "And I could teach you even a 
sweeter lesson, but you men will never learn it, as long as 
women have been trying to teach it on earth." 

" Wherefore then wear you this mask? " questioned 
Eckahardt with a severity in his tone, which seemed to 
stagger the girl. 

" To please one greater than myself," the dancer replied 
with a mock bow, which produced a general outburst of 
laughter. 

" Well then, what do you want with me? Why do you 
shrink away? " 

" Nay, if you will not dance with me, I must look for 
another partner, for my mother grows impatient, as you may 
see by the twirling of her girdle," replied the girl pettishly, 

J35 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" I never cared who it was before, and now simply because 
I like you, you hate me." 

" You know it is the bite of the poison spider, for which the 
Tarantella is the antidote," spoke Eckhardt sternly. 

Without replying the girl began her dance anew, flitting 
before her indifferent spectator in a maze of serpentine move 
ments, at once alluring and bewildering to the eye. And to 
complete her mockery of his apathy, she continued to sing 
even during all the vagaries of her dance. 

The crowd looked on with constantly increasing delight 
testifying its enthusiasm with occasional outbursts of joyful 
acclamation. Showers of silver, even gold, which fell in the 
circle, showed that the motley audience had not exhausted its 
resources in pious contributions, and the coins were greedily 
gathered hi by the old woman and her comrades, while several 
nobles who had joined the concourse whispered to the hag, 
gave her rings and other rich pledges, all of which she accepted, 
repaying the donors with the less substantial coin of promise. 

Suddenly the relentless fair one concluded her mazy circles 
by forming one with her nude arms over Eckhardt s head and 
inclining herself towards him, she whispered a few words into 
his ear. A lightning change seemed to come over the com 
mander s countenance, intensifying its pallor, and struck with 
the impression she had produced, the Sicilian continued her 
importunities, nodding towards the old hag hi the background, 
until Eckhardt half reluctantly, half wrathfully permitted him 
self to be drawn towards the group, of which the old woman 
formed the center. Pausing before her and whispering a few 
words into her ear, which caused the hag to glance up with a 
scowling leer, the girl took a small bronze mirror of oval 
shape from beneath her tunic and after breathing upon the 
surface, requested the old woman to proceed with the spell. 
The two Calabrians hurriedly gathered some dried leaves, 
which they stuffed under a tripod, that seemed to constitute 

136 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

the entire stock-in-trade of the group. After placing thereon 
a copper brazier, on which the old woman scattered some 
spices, the latter commanded the girl to hold the mirror over 
the fumes, which began to rise, after the two Calabrians had 
set the leaves on fire. The flames, which greedily licked them 
up, cast a strange illumination over the scene. The crowds 
attracted by the uncommon spectacle pushed nearer and 
nearer, while Eckhardt watched the process with an air of 
ill-disguised impatience and annoyance leaning upon his huge 
brand. 

The old woman was mumbling some words in a strange 
unintelligible jargon and the Calabrians were replenishing the 
consumed leaves with a new supply they had gathered up, 
when Eckhardt s strange companion drawing closer, whispered 
to him: 

" Now your wish ! Think it but do not speak ! " 

Eckhardt nodded, half indifferently, half irritated, when the 
girl suddenly held the bronze mirror before his eyes and bade 
him look. But no sooner had he obeyed her behest, than with 
an outcry of amazement he darted forward and fairly captured 
his unsuspecting tormentor. 

" Who are you ? " he questioned breathlessly, " to read 
men s thoughts and the silent wish of their heart ? " 

But in his eagerness he probably hurt the girl against the 
iron scales, of whose jangling he had boasted, for she uttered 
a cry and called in great terror: " Rescue Rescue! " 

Before the words were well uttered the two Calabrians 
rushed towards them with drawn daggers. The mob also 
raised a shout and seemed to meditate interference. This up 
roar changed the nature of the dancer s alarm. 

" In our Holy Mother s name forbear " she addressed 
the two Calabrians, and the mob, and turning to her captor, 
she muttered in a tone of almost abject entreaty: 

" Release me noble stranger! Indeed I am not what I 

i37 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

seem, and to be recognized here would be my ruin. Nay 
look not so incredulous ! I have but played this trick on you, 
to learn if you indeed hated all woman-kind. You think me 
beautiful, ah ! Could you but see my mistress ! You would 
surely forget these poor charms of mine." 

" And who is your mistress ? " questioned Eckhardt per 
sisting in his endeavour to remove her mask, and still under 
the spell of the strange and to him inexplicable vision in the 
bronze mirror. 

"Mercy mercy! You know it is a grievous offence to 
be seen without my Cardinal melon," pleaded the girl with a 
return of the wiling witchery in her tones and attempting, but 
in vain, to release herself from Eckhardt s determined grasp. 

" Who is your mistress ? " insisted the Margrave. " And 
who are you ? " 

" Release the wanton ! How dare you, a soldier of the 
church, break the commands of the Apostolic lieutenant ? " 
exclaimed a husky voice and a strong arm grasped Eckhardt s 
shoulder. Turning round, the latter saw himself confronted 
by the towering form of the monk Nilus, who seemed ignorant 
of the person and rank of him he was addressing and whose 
countenance flamed with fanatic wrath. 

" Ay ! And it hath come to my turn to rescue damsels, and 
moreover to serve the church," added another speaker in a 
bantering tone and Eckhardt instantly recognized the Lord 
Vitelozzo, who having eluded the pursuit of the monk of 
Cluny, held a mace he had secured in lieu of his cross-bow 
high and menacingly in the air. 

" Friar, look to your ally, if such he be, lest I do what I 
should have done before and make a very harmless rogue of 
him," said Eckhardt, holding the girl with one hand while 
with the other he unsheathed his sword. 

" Peace, fool! " the monk addressed his would-be ally, 
drawing him back forcibly. " The church needs not the aid 

138 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

of one rogue to subdue another. Let the girl go, my son ! " 
he then turned to the Margrave. 

" Nay, father by these bruises, which still ache, I will 
retrieve my wrong and rescue the wench," insisted the Roman, 
again raising his massive weapon, but the monk and some 
bystanders wedged themselves between Eckhardt and his 
opponent. 

" Nay, then, now we are like to have good sport," exclaimed 
a fourth. " A monk, a woman and a soldier, it requires 
not more to set the world ablaze." 

" Stranger, I implore you, release me," whispered Eck- 
hardt s captive with frantic entreaty amidst the ever increasing 
tumult of the bystanders, who appeared to be divided, some 
favouring the monk, while others sided with the girl s captor, 
whose intentions they sorely misconstrued. " I would not stand 
revealed to yonder monk for all the world ! " concluded the girl 
in fear-struck tones. 

At this moment a cry among the bystanders warned Eckhardt 
that Vitelozzo s wrath had at length mastered every effort to 
restrain him, and, whirling round, to defend himself he was 
compelled to release the girl. But instead of making the use 
she might have been expected to do of her liberty, she called 
to the monk, to part the combatants in the name of the saints. 

But it required no expostulation on the part of the friar, for 
when Eckhardt turned fully upon him, Vitelozzo, for the first 
time recognizing his antagonist, beat a precipitate retreat, 
but at some distance he turned, shouting derisively : 

" An olive for a fig ! Your dove has flown ! " and when 
Eckhardt, recovering from his surprise, wheeled about, he 
found, much to his chagrin, the Roman s words confirmed by 
the absence of the girl as well as of her associates, who managed 
to make their escape at the moment when the impending 
encounter had momentarily drawn off the attention of the 
crowd. 

139 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" The devil can speak truth, they say, though I believed it 
not till now," muttered Eckhardt to himself as, vexed and 
mystified beyond measure, he strode through the scattering 
crowds. 

Had it been some jeer of the fiend ? Had he been made 
the victim of some monstrous deceit ? 

Who was the Sicilian dancer, whose manners and golden 
language belied her demeaning attire, whose strange eyes had 
penetrated into the darkness of his soul, whose voice had 
thrilled him with the echoes of one long silent and forever ? 

The magic mirror in which, as in a haze, he had seen the 
one face he most longed to see, the strange and sudden ful 
fillment of the unspoken wish of his heart, the dancer s 
marked persistence in the face of his declared abhorrence, 
her mask and her incongruous companions, her fear of the 
monk and concern for himself, all these incidents, which 
one by one floated on the mirror of his memory, rose ever and 
anon before his inner gaze each time more mystifying and 
bewildering. 

In deep rumination Eckhardt pursued his way, gazing 
absently upon the roofless columns and shattered walls, every 
where visible, over which the star-light shone ghostly and 
transparent, backed by the frowning and embattled fortresses 
of the Cavalli, half hidden by the dark foliage that sprang 
up amidst the very fanes and palaces of old. Now and then he 
paused with a deep and heavy sigh, as he pondered over the 
dark and desolate path upon which he was about to enter, 
over the lack of a guiding hand in which he might trust, over 
the uncertainty of the step, which, once taken was beyond 
recall. 

Suddenly a light caught the solitary rambler s eye, a light 
almost like a star, scarcely larger indeed, but more red and 
intense in its ray. Of itself it was nothing uncommon and 
might have shone from either convent or cottage. But it 

140 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

streamed from a part of the Aventine, which contained no 
habitations of the living, only deserted ruins and shattered 
porticoes of which even the names and memories of their 
former inhabitants had been long forgotten. Aware of this, 
Eckhardt felt a slight awe, as the light threw its unsteady 
beam over the dreary landscape ; for he was by no means free 
from the superstition of the age and it was near the hour con 
secrated to witches and ghosts. 

But fear, whether of this world or the next, could not long 
daunt the mind of the Margrave; and after a brief hesitation 
he resolved to make a digression from his way, to discover the 
cause of the phenomenon. Unconsciously Eckhardt s tread 
passed over the site of the ill-famed temple of Isis which had at 
one time witnessed those wildest of orgies commemorated by 
the pen of Juvenal. At last he came to a dense and dark 
copse from an opening in the center of which gleamed the 
mysterious light. Penetrating the gloomy foliage Eckhardt 
found himself before a large ruin, grey and roofless. Through 
a rift in the wall, forming a kind of casement and about ten 
feet from the ground, the light gleamed over the matted and 
rank soil, embedded, as it were, hi vast masses of shade. 
Without knowing it, Eckhardt stood on the very spot once 
consecrated to the cult of the Egyptian goddess, and now 
shunned as an abode of evil spirits. The walls of the ruin 
were covered with a dense growth of creepers, which entwined 
even the crumbled portico to an extent that made it almost 
impossible to penetrate into its intricate labyrinth of corridors. 

While indulging in a thousand speculations, occasioned by 
the hour and the spot, Eckhardt suddenly perceived a shadow 
in the portico. Only the head was visible in the moonlight, 
which bathed the ruin, and it disappeared almost as quickly 
as it had been revealed. While meditating upon the expediency 
of exploring the mystery which confronted him, Eckhardt 
was startled by the sound of footsteps. Straining his gaze 

141 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

through the haze of the moonlight he beheld emerging from 
the portico of the temple the tall form of a man, wrapt in a 
long black cloak. He wore a conical hat with sloping brim 
which entirely shadowed his face and on his right arm he 
carried the apparently lifeless body of a girl. With the object 
of preventing a probable crime Eckhardt stepped from his place 
of concealment just as the stranger was about to pass him with 
his mysterious burden and placed his hands arrestingly on the 
other s shoulder. 

" Who are you ? And what is your business here ? " he 
questioned curtly, attempting to remove the stranger s vizor. 

" The one matters little to your business, the other little 
to mine," the tall individual replied enigmatically while he 
dexterously resisted his questioner s effort to gain a glimpse 
at his face. " But," he added in a strange oracular tone, 
which moved Eckhardt despite himself, " if you value my 
aid in your hour of trial assist me now in my hour of need ! " 

" Your aid ? " echoed Eckhardt, staring amazed at his 
companion. " Do you know me ? In what can you assist 
me?" 

"You are Eckhardt the Margrave," replied the stranger; 
then inclining his head slightly towards him he whispered a 
word, the effect of which seemed to paralyze his listener, for 
his arresting hand fell and he retreated a step or two, surveying 
him in speechless wonder. 

" Who are you ? " he stammered at last. 

The stranger raised the long visor of his conical hat. An 
exclamation of surprise came from Eckhardt s lips. 

"Hezilo, the harper!" 

The other replied with a silent nod. 

" And we have never met ! " 

" I seldom go out ! " said the harper. 

" What know you of Ginevra? " begged the Margrave. 

The harper shook his head. 

142 



THE SICILIAN DANCER 

" This is neither the time, nor the place. I must be gone 
to shelter my burden! We shall meet again! If you follow 
me," he concluded, noting Eckhardt s persistence, " you will 
learn nothing and only endanger my safety and that of this 
child ! " 

" Is she dead ? " Eckhardt questioned with a shudder. 

" Would she were ! " replied the stranger mournfully. 

" Can I assist you ? " 

" I thank you! The burden is light. We will meet again." 

There was something in the harper s tone which arrested 
Eckhardt s desire to ignore his injunction. How long he 
remained on the site of the ill-famed ruin, the Margrave hardly 
knew. When the fresh breeze of night, blowing from the 
Campagna, roused him at last from his reverie the mysterious 
stranger and his equally mysterious burden had disappeared 
in the haze of the moonlit night. Like one walking in a 
dream Eckhardt slowly retraced his steps to his palace on the 
Caelian Mount, where an imperial order sanctioning his pur 
pose and relieving him of his command awaited him. 



143 



CHAPTER XI 



NILUS OF GAETA 




GRAND high mass in honour of 
the pilgrims was on the follow 
ing eve to be celebrated in the 
ancient Basilica of St. Peter s. 
But vast as was its extent, only 
a part of the pilgrims could be 
contained and the bronze gates 
were thrown open to allow the 
great multitude which filled the 
square to share the benefits and 
some of the glories of the ceremony. 

The Vatican Basilica of the tenth century, far from possessing 
its present splendour, was as yet but the old consecrated palace, 
hallowed by memories of the olden time, in which Charle 
magne enjoyed the hospitality of Leo III, when at his hands 
he received the imperial crown of the West. Similar to the 
restored church of St. Paul fuori le Mure, as we now see it, it 
was some twenty feet longer and considerably wider, having 
five naves divided off by four rows of vast monolith columns. 
There were ninety-six columns in all, of various marbles, 
differing in size and style, for they had been the first hasty 
spoils of antique palaces and temples. The walls above the 
order of columns were decorated with mosaics such as no 
Roman hand could then produce or even restore. A grand 
arch, such as we see at the older Basilicas to-day, inlaid with 
silver and adorned with mosaic, separated the nave from the 
chancel, below which was the tribune, an inheritance from the 

144 



NILUS OF GAETA 

praetor s court of old. It now contained the high altar and the 
sedile of the Vicar of Christ. Before the altar stood the Con 
fession, the vault wherein lay the bones of St. Peter, with a 
screen of silver crowned with images of saints and virgins. 
And the whole was illumined by a gigantic candelabrum holding 
more than a thousand lighted tapers. 

The chief attraction, however, was yet wanting, for the 
pontiff and his court still tarried in the Vatican receiving the 
homage of the foreign pilgrims. While listlessly noting the 
preparations from his chosen point of vantage, Eckhardt dis 
covered himself the object of scrutiny on the part of a monk, 
who had been listlessly wandering about and who disappeared 
no sooner than he had caught the eye of the great leader. 

Unwilling to continue the target of observation on the part 
of those who recognized him despite his closed visor, Eckhardt 
entered the Basilica and took up his station near a remote 
shrine, whence he could witness the entrance of the pontifical 
procession, without attracting undue attention to his person. 
When the pontifical train did appear, it seemed one mass of 
glitter and sumptuous colour, as it filed down the aisles of the 
Basilica. The rich copes of the ecclesiastics, stiff with gold 
and gorgeous brocade, the jewelled mantles of the nobles, the 
polished breast plates and tasselled spears of the guards passed 
before his eyes hi a bewildering confusion of splendour. In 
his gilded chair, under a superb canopy, Gregory, the youthful 
pontiff, was borne along, surrounded by a crowd of bishops, 
extending his hands in benediction as he passed the kneeling 
worshippers. 

An infinite array of officials followed. Then came pilgrims 
of the highest rank, each order marching hi separate divisions, 
in the fantastic costumes of their respective countries. In 
their wake marched different orders of monks and nuns, the 
former carrying torches, the latter lighted tapers, although the 
westering sun still flamed down the aisles in cataracts of 

145 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

light. After these fraternities and sisterhoods, Crescentius, 
the Senator, was seen to enter with his suite, conspicuous for 
the pomp of their attire, the taste of Crescentius being to 
sombre colours. 

Descending from his elevated station, Gregory proceeded to 
officiate as High Priest in the august solemnity. Come with 
what prejudices one might, it was not in humanity to resist 
the impressions of overwhelming awe, produced by the mag 
nificence of the spectacle and the sublime recollections with 
which the solemnity itself in every stage is associated. Despite 
his extreme youth, Gregory supported all the venerableness 
and dignity of the High Priest of Christendom and when at the 
conclusion of the high mass he bestowed his benediction on all 
Christendom, Eckhardt was kneeling with the immense multi 
tude, perhaps more convinced than the most enthusiastic 
pilgrim, that he was receiving benediction direct from heaven. 

The paroxysm only subsided, when raising his head, he 
beheld a gaunt monk in the funereal garb of the brotherhood 
of Penitent Friars ascend the chancel. He was tall, lean as a 
skeleton and from his shrivelled face two eyes, sunken deep 
in their sockets, burnt with the fire of the fanatic. This was 
the celebrated hermit, Nilus of Gaeta, of whose life and manners 
the most wonderful tales were current. He was believed to 
be of Greek extraction, perhaps owing to his lengthy residence 
in Southern Italy, near the shrines of Monte Gargano hi 
Apulia.; In the pursuit of recondite mysteries of the Moorish 
and Cabalistical schools, he had attained such proficiency, 
that he was seized with a profound disgust for the world and 
became a monk. Several years he spent in remote and pagan 
lands, spreading the tidings of salvation, until, as it was 
whispered, he received an extraordinary call to the effect, as 
was more mysteriously hinted, to turn the church from diverse 
great errors, into which she had fallen, and which threatened 
her downfall. Last, not least, he was to prepare the minds 

146 



NILUS OF GAETA 

of mortal men for the great catastrophe of the Millennium, 
the End of Time, the end of all earthly vanity. Special visions 
had been vouchsafed him, and there was that in his age, in his 
appearance and his speech which at once precluded the im- 
poster. Nilus of Gae ta himself believed what he preached. 

There was a brief silence, during which the Romans ac 
quainted their foreign guests in hurried whispers with the 
name and renown of the reputed hermit. The latter stood 
motionless in the chancel and seemed to offer up a silent 
prayer, ere he pronounced his harangue. 

His sermon was delivered in Latin, still the common language 
of Italy, even in its corrupt state, and its quality was such 
as to impress at once the most skeptical with the extraordinary 
gifts of the preacher. 

The monk began with a truly terrific picture of the state 
of society and religion throughout the Christian world, which 
he delineated with such gloom and horror, that but for his 
arabesque entanglement and his gorgeousness of imagery one 
might have believed him a spirit of hell, returned to paint the 
orb of the living with colours borrowed from its murkiest 
depths. But with all the fantastic convolutions of his reasoning 
the fervour of a real eloquence soon began to overflow the 
twisted fountains, in which the scholastic rhetoric of the time 
usually confined its displays. These qualities Nilus especially 
exhibited when describing the pure dawn of Christianity, in 
which the pagan gods had vanished like phantoms of night. 
He declared that they were once more deified upon earth and 
the clear light all but extinguished. And treating the antique 
divinities as impersonations of human passions and lusts, the 
monk s eloquence suddenly took the most terrible tints, and 
considering the nature of some of the crimes which he thus 
delineated and anathematized, his audience began to suspect 
personal allusions of the most hideous nature. 

After this singular exordium, the monk proceeded in his 

147 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

harangue and it seemed as if his words, like the lava overflow 
from a volcano, withered all that was green and flowery in 
their path. The Universe in his desponding eloquence seemed 
but a vast desolation. All the beautiful illusions which the 
magic of passion conjures into the human soul died beneath 
his touch, changing into the phantoms, which perhaps they are. 
The vanity of hope, the shallowness of success, the bitterness 
which mingles with the greatest glory, the ecstasy of love, 
all these the monk painted in the most powerful colours, to 
contrast them with the marble calm of that drooping form 
crucified upon the hill of Calvary. 

Spellbound, the immense multitude listened to the almost 
superhuman eloquence of the friar. As yet his attacks had 
dealt only in generalities. The Senator of Rome seemed to 
listen to his words with a degree of satisfaction. A singularity 
remarked in his character by all his historians, which, by 
some, has been considered as proof of a nature not originally 
evil, was his love of virtue in the abstract. Frequent resolu 
tions and recommendations to reform were perhaps only over 
come by his violent passions, his ambition and the exigencies 
of his ambiguous state between church and empire. But as 
the monk detailed the crimes and monstrosities of the age, 
the calm on the Senator s face changed to a livid, satirical 
smile, and occasionally he pointed the invectives of the friar 
by nodding to those of his followers who were supposed to be 
guilty of the crimes alleged, as if to call upon them to notice 
that they were assailed, and many a noble shrank behind his 
neighbour whose conscience smote him of one or all the crimes 
enumerated by Nilus. 

In one of his most daring flights the monk suddenly checked 
himself and announcing his vision of impending judgment, 
he bid his listeners prepare their souls in a prophetic and 
oracular tone, which was distinctly audible, amid all the 
muttering which pervaded the Basilica. 

148 



NILUS OF GAETA 

A few moments of devout silence followed. The monk was 
expected to kneel, to offer up a prayer for divine mercy. But 
he stood motionless in the chancel, and after waiting a short 
time, Gregory turned to an attendant: 

" Go and see what ails the disciple of Benedict, we will 
ourselves say the Gratias." 

After rising, he stepped to the altar with the accustomed 
retinue of cardinals and prelates and chanted the benediction. 
At the conclusion Crescentius approached the altar alone, 
demanded permission to make a duteous offering and emptied 
a purse of gold on the salver. 

" A most princely and regal benefaction," muttered the 
Pontifical Datary "a most illustrious example." 

" Charlemagne gave more, but so will I, when like him I 
come to receive the crown of the West," muttered the Senator 
of Rome. His example was immediately followed, and in a 
few moments the altar was heaped round with presents of 
extraordinary magnificence and bounty. Sacks of gold and 
silver were emptied out, jewels, crucifixes, relics, amber, gold- 
dust, ivories, pearls and rare spices were heaped up in pro 
miscuous profusion, and in return each donor received a branch 
of consecrated palm from the hand of the Datary, whose keen 
eyes reflected the brightness of the treasures whose receipts 
he thus acknowledged. 

The chant from various chapels now poured down the 
aisles its torrents of melody, the vast multitudes joining in 
the Gloria hi Excelsis. Eckhardt s remote station had not per 
mitted him to witness all that had happened. His gaze was 
still riveted on the friar, who was now staggering from the 
pulpit, when a terrific event turned and absorbed his attention. 

The great bell of the Basilica was tolling and the vibration 
produced by so many sounds shook the vast and ancient pile 
so violently that a prodigious mass of iron, which formed one 
of the clappers of the bell, fell from the belfry in the airy 

149 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

spire and dashing with irresistible force through every obstruc 
tion, reached the floor at the very feet of the Pontiff, crushing 
a deep hole in the pavement and throwing a million pieces of 
shattered marble over him and his retinue. 

The vast assembly was for a moment motionless with 
terror and surprise, expecting little less than universal de 
struction in the downfall of the whole edifice on their heads, 
with all its ponderous mass of iron and stone. A cry arose that 
the Pontiff had been killed, which was echoed in a thousand 
varying voices, according as men s fears or hopes prevailed. 
But in the first moment of panic, when it was doubtful whether 
or not the entire center of the Basilica would crumble upon 
the assembly, Eckhardt had rushed from the comparative 
safety of his own station to the side of the Pontiff as if to 
shield him, when with the majesty of a prophet interposing 
between offended heaven and the object of its wrath, Gerbert 
of Aurillac uttered with deep fervour and amid profound silence 
a De Profundis. The multitudes were stilled from their panic, 
which might have been attended with far more serious con 
sequences than the accident itself. There was a solemn pause, 
broken only by a sea-like response of " Amen " and a 
universal sigh of relief, which sounded like the soughing of 
the wind in a great forest. 

All distinctions of rank seemed blotted out in that supreme 
moment. Then the voice of Nilus was heard thundering 
above the breathless calm, while he held aloft an ebony 
crucifix, in which he always carried the host : 

" The summits of St. Peter still stand ! When they too fall, 
pilgrims of the world even so shall Christendom fall with 
them." 

At a sign from the Pontiff his attendants raised aloft the 
canopy, under which he had entered. But he refused to 
mount the chair and heading the bishops and cardinals, he 
left the church on foot. The Datary gave one look of hopeless 

150 



NILUS OF GAETA 

despair, as the masses crowded out of the Basilica, and aban 
doned all hope of restoring order. In an incredibly short 
time the vast area was emptied, Crescentius being one of the 
last to remain in its deepening shadows. With a degree of 
vacancy he gazed after the vanishing crowds, more gorgeous 
in their broken and mingled pomp, as they passed out of the 
high portals, than when marshalled hi due rank and order. 

He too was about to leave, when he discerned a monk who 
stood gazing, as it were, incredulously at the shattered altar- 
pavement and the mass of iron deeply embedded in it. Hastily 
he advanced towards him, but as he approached he was struck 
by observing the monk raise his eyes, sparkling with mad 
fury, to the lighted dome above and clench his hands as if hi 
defiance of its glory. 

" Thou seemest to hold thy life rather as a burden than a 
blessing, monk, since thus thou repayest thy salvation," 
Crescentius addressed the friar, somewhat staggered by his 
attitude. 

" Ay ! If I have done Heaven a temporal injury, be 
comforted, ye saints for ye have wrought me an eternal 
one! " growled the monk between clenched teeth. 

" Heaven ? " questioned Crescentius, almost tempted to the 
conclusion that the monk, whoever he was, was out of his 
senses. 

" Even Heaven," replied the monk. " One cubit nearer the 
altar, I thought the struggle over in my soul between the 
dark angel and the bright I had strung my soul to its mighty 
task, yet I shrank from it, a second, and more cowardly 
Judas." 

Crescentius gazed at the friar without grasping his meaning. 

" Take thy superior out of the church, he is mad and 
blasphemes," he turned to the monk s companion who listened 
stolidly to his raving. 

" Ay ! " spoke the strange monk, gnashing his teeth and 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

shaking his fist towards heaven, " even the church shall 
anon be rent in twain and form a chasm, down which countless 
generations shall tumble into the abyss twere just retri 
bution!" 

" Tell me but this, monk, how could Heaven itself throw 
obstacles in the way of thine intent ? " questioned Crescentius, 
perceiving that the monk had turned to depart and more 
convinced than ever that he was speaking to a madman. 

" How ? How ? Oh, thou slow of understanding, 
how ? " 

And the monk pointed downward, to the crushed and 
shattered marble of the pavement, in which the iron clapper 
of the bell lay embedded. 

Crescentius receded involuntarily before the fierce, insane 
gleam hi the monk s eyes, while the terrible import of his 
speech suddenly flashed upon his understanding. Crossing 
himself, he left the strange friar to himself and passed swiftly 
through the motley crowds which were waiting their turn of 
admission to the subterranean chapel of the Grand Peniten- 
tiarius. 

Another had remained in the dense gloom of the Basilica, 
though he had not witnessed the scene which had just come 
to a close. After the Pontiff s departure, Eckhardt had retired 
to the shrine of Saint Michael, where he knelt in silent prayer. 
His mind was filled with fantastic imaginings, inspired chiefly 
by his recent pilgrimage to the shrines of Monte Gargano. 
The deep void within him made itself doubly felt in this hour 
and more than ever he felt the need of divine interposition in 
order to retain that consciousness of purpose which was to 
guide his future course. 

At last he arose. A remote chant fell upon his ears, and he 
saw a procession moving slowly from the refectory into the 
nave of the Basilica. By the dusky glare of the torches, which 
they carried, Eckhardt distinguished a number of penitent 

152 



NILUS OF GAETA 

friars, bearing aloft the banner, destined in after-generations 
to become the standard of the Holy Inquisition, a Red Cross in 
a black field with the motto : "In Hoc Signo Vinces." Among 
them and seemingly the chief personage, strode the strange 
friar. With down-cast head and eyes he walked, eyes which, 
while they seemed fixed on the ground in self-abasement, 
stealthily scanned the features of those he passed. 

" I marvel the holy saints think it worth while to trouble 
themselves about the soul of every putrid, garlic-chewing 
knave," said an old beggar on the steps of the Cathedral to an 
individual with whose brief review Eckhardt was much struck. 
He was a man past the middle -age, with the sallow complexion 
peculiar to the peasants of the marshes. His broad hat, 
garnished with many coloured ribbons, was drawn over his 
visage, though not sufficiently so, to conceal the ghastly scars, 
with which it was disfigured. His lurking, suspicious eye and 
the peculiar manner with which, from habit, he carried his 
short cloak drawn over his breast, as if to conceal the naked 
stiletto, convinced Eckhardt that, whatsoever that worthy 
might assume to be, he was one of those blackest of the scourges 
of Italy, which the license of the times had rendered fearfully 
numerous, the banditti and bravi. 

" Whether the saints care or no," that individual returned, 
" the monk is competent to convert the fiend himself. What 
an honour for the brotherhood to have produced such a saint." 

Scarcely bestowing more than a thought upon so usual an 
evidence of social disorder, which neither pontifical nor im 
perial edicts had been able to correct, Eckhardt passed out, 
without noticing that he had himself attracted at least equal 
attention from the worthy described, who after having satisfied 
his curiosity, slunk back among the crowds and was 
lost to sight. 



153 



CHAPTER XII 




RED FALERNIAN 

HE palace of Theodora re 
sounded with merriment, 
though it was long past mid 
night. 

Round a long oval table in 
the great hall sat a score or 
more of belated revellers, their 
Patrician garbs in disorder, and 
soiled with wine, their faces 
inflamed, their eyes red and 
fiery, their tongues heavy and beyond the bounds of control. 
Here and there a vacant or overturned chair showed where a 
guest had fallen in the debauch, and had been permitted to 
remain on his self -chosen bed of repose. A band of players 
hidden in a remote gallery still continued to fill up the pauses 
in the riotous clamour with their barbaric strains. 

At the head of the table, first hi place as in rank sat Benilo, 
the Chamberlain. He seemed to take little interest in the 
conversation, for, resting his head on his hands, he stared 
into his untouched goblet, as if he endeavoured to cast some 
augury from the rising and vanishing bubbles of the 
wine. 

Next to him sat Pandulph, Lord of Spoleto and Beneventum. 
His low, though well-set figure, dark hair, keen, black eyes 
and swarthy features bespoke his semi-barbaric extraction. 
His countenance was far from comely, when in repose, even 
ugly and repulsive, but in his eyes lay the force of a powerful 

iS4 



RED FALERNIAN 

will and a depth and subtlety of intellect, that made men fear, 
when they could not love him. On the right of the Count sat 
the Lord of Civitella, a large, sensual man, with twinkling 
grey eyes, thick nose and full red lips. His broad face, flushed 
with wine, glowed like the harvest moon rising above the 
horizon. Opposite him sat the Patricius Ziazo, crafty and 
unscrupulous, a parasite who flattered whosoever ministered 
to his pleasure. The Patricius was conversing with an individ 
ual who outshone Pandulph in rapine, the Lord of Civitella in 
coarseness and himself in sycophancy, Guido of Vanossa, an 
arrogant libertine, whose pinched features and cunning leer 
formed the true index to his character. The Lords of Sinigaglia, 
Torre del Greece, Bracciano, Cavallo and Caetano swelled the 
roll of infamy on the boards of Theodora, worthy predeces 
sors of the Orsini and Savelli, who were to oppress the city 
in after time. 

Among those who had marked the beginning of the evening 
by more than ordinary gaiety, Benilo had by his splendid 
dissipation excited the general envy and admiration among 
his fellow revellers. His face was inflamed, his dark eyes 
were glittering with the adder tongues of the serpent wine, 
and his countenance showed traces of unlimited debauchery. 
It seemed to those present, as if the ghost of the girl Nelida, 
whom he had killed in this very hall, was haunting him, so 
madly did he respond to the challenges from all around, to 
drink. But as the wine began to flood every brain, as the hall 
presented a scene of riotous debauch, his former reckless mood 
seemed for the nonce to have changed to its very opposite. 
Through the fumes of wine the dead girl seemed to regard him 
with sad, mournful eyes. 

" Fill the goblets," cried Pandulph, with a loud and still 
clear voice. " The lying clock says it is day. But neither 
cock-crows nor clock change the purple night to dawn in the 
Groves of Theodora, save at the will of the Goddess herself. 

155 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Fill up, companions! The lamp-light in the wine cup is 
brighter than the clearest sun that ever shone." 

" Well spoken, Pandulph ! Name the toast and we will 
pledge it, till the seven stars count fourteen and the seven 
hills but one," said the Cavallo looking up. " I see four hour 
glasses even now and every one of them lies, if it says it is 
dawn." 

" You shall have my toast," said Pandulph, raising his 
goblet. " We have drunk it twenty times already, but we will 
drink it twenty times more : the best prologue to wine 
ever devised by wit of man Woman." 

A shadow moved in the dusky background and peered unseen 
into the hall. 

"And the best epilogue," replied the Lord of Civitella, 
visibly drunk. " But the toast my cup is waiting." 

" To the health wealth and love by stealth of Theo 
dora! " yelled Pandulph, gulping down the contents of his 
goblet. 

Benilo s face turned ashen pale, but he smiled. 

"To Theodora!" 

Every tongue repeated the name, the goblets were drained. 

" My Lord, it is your turn now," said Pandulph, turning to 
the Lord of Civitella. " The good folks of Urbino have not yet 
rung the fire-bells against you, but some say they soon will. 
Who shall it be ? " 

The Lord of Civitella filled up his cup with unsteady hand, 
until it was running over and propping his body against the 
table as he stood up, he said: 

" A toast to Roxane" ! And as for my foragers they sweep 
clean." 

The toast was drunk with rapturous applause. 

" Right you are," bellowed the Cavallo. " Better brooms 
were never made on the Posilippo, not a straw lies in 
your way." 

156 



RED FALERNIAN 

" Did you accomplish it without fight ? " sneered the Lord 
of Bracciano. 

" Fight ? Why fight ? The burghers never resist a noble ! 
We conjure the devil down with that. When we skin our 
eels, we don t begin at the tail." 

" Better to steal the honey, than to kill the bees that make it." 

" But what became of the women and children after this 
swoop of your foragers ? " asked the Lord of Bracciano, who 
appeared to entertain some few isolated ideas of honour 
floating on the top of the wine he had gulped down. 

" The women and children ? " replied the Lord of Civitella 
with a mocking air, crossing his thumbs, like the peasants of 
Lugano, when they wish to inspire belief in their words. 
" They can breakfast by gaping! They can eat wind, like the 
Taren tines, it will make them spit clear." 

The Lord of Bracciano, irritated at the mocking sign and 
proverbial allusion to the gaping propensities of the people 
round the Lago, started up hi wrath and struck his clenched 
fist on the table. 

" My Lord of Civitella," he cried, " do not cross your damned 
thumbs at me, else I will cut them off! The people of Brac 
ciano have still corn hi plenty, until your thieving bands 
scorch their ringers hi the attempt to steal it." 

Andrea Cavallo interposed to stop the rising quarrel. 

" Do not mind the Lord of Civitella," he whispered to 
Bracciano. " He is drunk ! " 

" The rake ! The ingrate ! " growled Bracciano, " after 
my men opened the traps, in which the Vicar of the Church 
had caught him." 

" Nay! If you gape at man s ingratitude, your mouth will 
be wide enough, ere you die, my lord," spoke Pandulph with 
a sardonic laugh. " And men in our day stand no more on 
precedence in plots than hi love affairs, do they, my lord 
Benilo ? " 

157 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Nay, I ll dispute no man s right to be hanged or quartered 
before me least of all yours, my Lord Pandulph," the 
Chamberlain replied venomously. 

" My lord Benilo," replied Pandulph, " you are, when 
drunk, the greatest ruffian in Christendom, and the biggest 
knave when sober. Bring in more tankards, and we will not 
look for day till midnight booms again on the old tower of San 
Sebastian ! I call for full brimmers, varlets, bring your 
largest cups! We will drink another toast five fathoms deep 
in wine, strong enough to melt Cleopatra s pearls, and to a 
jollier dame than Egypt s queen." 

The servitors flew out and in. In a few moments the table 
was replenished with huge drinking cups, silver flagons and 
all the heavy impediments of the army of Bacchus. 

" We drink to the Fair Lady of the Groves, and in her 
presence, too ! " shouted the Lord of Spoleto, raising his 
goblet anew. " Why is she not among us ? They say," he 
turned to Benilo with a sneer, " that you are so jealous of the 
charms of your bird of paradise, that you have forbidden her to 
appear before your friends." 

Roaring peals of laughter crowned Pandulph s speech. 

Benilo saw the absurdity of anger, but he felt it never 
theless. 

" She chooses not to leave her bower even to look on you, my 
Lord Pandulph. I warrant you, she has not slept all night, 
listening to your infernal din." 

A renewed outburst of mirth was the response. 

" Then you will permit us to betake ourselves forthwith 
to her gilded chamber to implore pardon on our knees for 
disturbing her rest." 

" Well spoken by the boot of St. Benedict ! " roared 
Guido of Vanossa. 

" You may measure my foot and satisfy yourself that I am 
able to wear it," shouted the Lord of Civitella. " On our knees 

158 



RED FALERNIAN 

we will crawl to the Sanctuary of our Goddess, on our 
knees ! " 

" But before we start on our pilgrimage, we will drain a 
draught long as the bell-rope of the Capitol," bellowed the Lord 
of Bracciano. 

"Fill up the tankards!" exclaimed the Lord of Spoleto. 
" My goblet is as empty as an honest man s purse, and one 
of my eyes is sober yet." 

" Do not take it to heart! " spoke Guido of Vanossa, whose 
eyes were full of tears and wine. " You will not die in the 
jolly fellow s faith ! " And with unsteady voice he began to 
sing a stanza in dog-Latin : 

" Dum Vinum potamus 
Fratelli cantiamo 
A Bacco sia Onore ! 
Te Deum laudamus ! * 

" Would your grace had a better voice, you have a good 
will ! " stammered the lord of Sinigaglia. " Tis ample time 
to repent when you can do no better. Besides if you are 
damned, it is in rare good company! " 

"Ay! Saint and Sinner come to the same end! " gurgled 
the Lord Pandulph, ogling the purple Falernian. 

" Fill up your goblets ! Though it be a merry life to lead, 
I doubt if it will end in so cheery a death ! " said Benilo, his eye 
wandering slowly from one to the other. 

" Fill up the goblets ! " shouted the Lord of Spoleto, rising 
and supporting his bulky carcass on the heavy oaken table. 

With a sleepy leer he blinked at the guests. 

" Down on your knees," he roared suddenly, his former 
intent reverting to him. " To the Sanctuary of the Goddess ! 
On our knees we will implore her to receive us into her favour." 

A strange spirit of recklessness had seized Benilo. Instead 
of resenting or resisting the proposition, he was the first to get 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

down on all fours. His example had an electrifying effect. 
Although they swayed to and fro like sail-boats on angry sea- 
waves, all those still sober enough imitated the Chamberlain 
amid cheers and grunts, and slowly the singular procession, 
led by Benilo, set in motion with the expressed purpose of 
invading Theodora s apartments, which were situated beyond 
the great hall. The Lord Pandulph resembled some huge 
bear as on all fours he hobbled across the mosaic floor beside 
the Lord of Bracciano, who panted, grunted and swore and 
called on the saints, to witness his self-abasement. Being 
gouty and stout, he was at one time seized with a cramp hi his 
leg and struck out vigorously with the result of striking the 
Lord of Civitella squarely in the jaw, whereupon the latter, 
toppling over, literally flooded the hall with profanity and 
surplus wine. The other ten hobbled behind the leaders, 
cursing their own folly, but enjoying to a degree the novelty 
of the pageant. 

Thus they had traversed the great hall at a speed as great 
as their singular mode of locomotion and their intoxicated 
condition would permit. The background of the hall was but 
dimly lighted; the great curtain strung between the two 
massive pillars, which guarded the entrance into Theodora s 
apartments, excluded the glow of the multi-coloured lamps, 
strung hi regular intervals in the corridor beyond. 

Benilo was the first to reach the curtain. Resting one 
hand on the floor, he raised the other, after the manner of a 
dog, trying to push its folds aside, when they suddenly and 
noiselessly parted. Something hissed through the air, striking 
the object of its aim a stinging blow in the face a cry of 
pain and rage, and Benilo, who had sprung to his feet, stood 
face to face with Theodora. At the same moment the lights 
in the great hall were turned on to a full blaze, revealing in 
its entire repelling atrocity the spectacle of the drunken 
revellers, who, upon experiencing a sudden check to their 

160 



RED FALERNIAN 

further progress, had come to a sluggish halt, some of them 
unable to retain their balance and toppling over in their tracks. 

" Beasts ! Swine ! " hissed the woman, her eyes ablaze with 
wrath, the whip which had struck Benilo in the face, still 
quivering in her infuriated grasp. " Out with you out! " 

The sound of a silver whistle, which she placed between her 
lips, brought some five or six giant Africans to the spot. They 
were eunuchs, whose tongues had been torn out, and who, 
possessing no human weakness, were ferocious as the wild 
beasts of their native desert. Theodora gave them a brief com 
mand in their own tongue and ere the amazed revellers knew 
what was happening to them, they found themselves picked 
up by dusky, muscular arms and unceremoniously ejected from 
the hall, those lying in a semi-conscious stupor under the 
tables sharing the same fate. 



161 



CHAPTER XIII 



DEAD LEAVES 




HILE the Nubians set about in 
cleaning the hall and removing 
the last vestiges of the night s 
debauch, Theodora faced Benilo 
with such contempt in her dark 
eyes, that for a moment the 
Chamberlain s boasted insolence 
almost deserted him, and though 
seething with rage at the chas 
tisement inflicted upon him he 
awaited her speech in silence. She faced him, leaning against 
a marble statue, her hands playing nervously with the whip. 

" For once I have discovered you in your true station, the 
station of the foul, crouching beast, to which you were born, 
had not some accident played into the devil s hands by giving 
you the glittering semblance of the snake," she said slowly and 
with a disdain ringing from her words, which cut even his 
debased nature to the core. " I have whipped you, as one whips 
a cur : do you still desire me for your wife ? " 

With lips tightly compressed he looked down, not daring to 
meet her fierce gaze of hatred, which was burning into his very 
brain. 

" I see little reason for changing my mind," he replied after 
a brief pause, while as he spoke his cheek seemed to burn 
with shame, where the whip had struck it, and her evil, terrible 
beauty, exposed in her airy night-robe, roused all the wild 
demoniacal passions in his soul. 

162 



DEAD LEAVES 

The whip trembled in her hands. 

" And you call yourself a man! " she said with a withering 
look of contempt, under which he winced. 

Then she continued in a hard and cheerless voice, wherein 
spoke more than simple aversion, a voice that seemed as it 
were petrified with grief, with remorse and hatred of the man 
who had been the cause of her fall. 

" Listen to me, Benilo, mark well my words. What I 
have been, you know : the beloved, the adored wife of a man, 
who would have carried me through life s storms under the 
shelter of his love, a man, who would have shed the last 
drop of his life s blood for Ginevra, that was. For two 
years we lived in happiness. I had begged him never to lift 
the veil which shrouded my birth, a wish he respected, a 
promise he kept. In the field and at court he pursued the 
even tenor of his way, happy and content with my love. 
Then there crept into our home a hypocrite, a liar, a fiend, 
who could mock the devils in hell to scorn. He stands there, 
Benilo, his name, a foul thing, who shrank from nothing 
to gain his ends. Some fiend revealed to him the awful secret 
of Ginevra s birth, a secret which he used to draw her step 
by step from the man she loved, to perpetrate a deceit, the 
cunning of which would put the devils to blush. He promised 
to restore to her what is her own by right of her birth. He 
roused in her all the evil which ran riot in her blood, and when 
she had given herself to him, he revealed himself the lying fiend 
he was. Stung by the furies of remorse, which haunted her 
night and day, in her despair the woman made her love the 
prize, wherewith to purchase that for which she had broken 
the holiest ties. But those she made happy were beasts, 
enjoying her favour, giving nothing in return. My heart is 
sick of it, sick of this sham, sick of this baseness. Heaven 
once vouchsafed me a sinner s glimpse of paradise, of a home 
of purity and peace where indeed I might have been a queen, 

163 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

a queen so different from the one who rules a gilded charnel- 
house." 

Benilo had listened in silent amazement. He failed to 
sound the drift of Theodora s speech. The whip-lash burned 
on his cheek. Her sudden dejection gave him back some of 
his former courage. 

" I believe Theodora is discovering that she once possessed 
a conscience," he said with a sardonic smile. " How does the 
violent change agree with you ? " he drawled insolently, for 
the first time raising his eyes to hers. 

She appeared not to heed the question, but nodding wearily 
she said: 

" I am not myself to-night. Despite all which has happened, 
I stand here a suppliant before the man who has ruined my 
life. I have something else to say." 

" Then I fear you have played your game and lost," he said 
brutally. 

Theodore interrupted his speech with a gesture, and when she 
spoke, a shade of sadness touched her halting tones. 

" Last night he came to me in my dream. I will never 
forget the expression with which he regarded me. I am weary 
of it all, weary unto death." 

" Unfortunately our wager does not concern itself with 
sleep-walking though it seems your only chance of luring 
your over-scrupulous mate to your bower." 

The woman started. 

" Surely, you do not mean to hold me to the wager ? " 

He smiled sardonically. 

" Considering the risk I run in this affair why 
not ? Eckhardt is a man of action so is Benilo, who 
has performed the rare miracle of compelling the grave 
to return to his arms Ginevra, a queen indeed, of her 
kind." 

Surely some extraordinary change had taken place hi the 

164 



DEAD LEAVES 

bosom of the woman before him. She received the thrust 
without parrying it. 

" I see," he continued after a brief pause, " Eckhardt proves 
too mighty a rock, even for Theodora to move ! " 

" His will is strong but all night in his lonely cell he 
called Ginevra s name." 

" You are well informed. Why not take the veil your 
self, since a life of serene placidity seems so suddenly to 
your taste ? " 

" And where is it written that I shall not ? " she questioned, 
looking him full in the eye. Benilo winced. If she would 
but quarrel. He felt insecure in her present mood. 

" Here on the tablets of my memory, where a certain 
wager is recorded," he replied. 

She turned upon him angrily. 

" It is you who forced me to it against my will. I took 
up your gauntlet, stung by your biting ridicule, goaded by 
your insults to a weak and senseless folly." 

" Then you acknowledge yourself vanquished ? " 

" I am not vanquished. What I undertake, I carry through 
if I wish to carry it through." 

" It has to my mind ceased to be a matter of choice with 
you," drawled the Chamberlain. " In three days Eckhardt s 
fate will be sealed, as far as this world of ours is concerned. 
You see, your chances are small and you have no time to lose." 

" Day after to-morrow holy Virgin so soon ? " gasped 
Theodora. 

" You have inadvertently called on one whose calls you 
have not of late returned," sneered the Chamberlain, with 
insolent nonchalance. 

" Day after to-morrow," Theodora repeated, stroking her 
brow with one white hand. " Day after to-morrow! " 

" Do not despair," Benilo drawled sardonically. " Much 
can happen in two days." 

165 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

She did not seem to hear him. Her thoughts seemed to 
roam far away. Then they returned to earth. For a moment 
she studied the man before her in silence, then dropping the 
whip, she stretched out her hand to him. 

" Release me from this wager," she pleaded, " and all 
shall be forgotten and forgiven." 

He did not touch the hand. It fell. 

" Theodora," he whispered hoarsely. " You will never 
know how I love you! I am not as evil as I seem. But 
there are moments when I lose control and madness chokes 
my better self, hi the hopeless hunt for your love. Theodora 
bury the past ! Give up this baleful existence live with me 
again." 

She laughed a shrill laugh. 

" Your concubine ! And you have the courage to ask this? " 

" You know I love the very ground you tread on." 

" Is that all you have to tell me ? " 

" Is not that enough ? " 

"No it is not enough! " she replied with flashing eyes. 
" Between us stand the barriers of eternity ! " 

He paled. 

" Do not dismiss me like this. It is far more cruel than you 
know. If you kill my hope, you leave me a prey to the devils 
of jealousy and madness, the evil things of your own 
creation! Come back to me! I only ask the love you gave 
me once, the love you thought you gave me, a gram, a 
crumb." 

She turned her face away. 

" Never again ! Never again ! " 

The fevered blood raced swiftly from his cheek. For a 
moment he watched her in silence, his eyes like slits in his 
hard, pale face, then he turned on his heel and laughed aloud. 

A shudder she could not repress crept over the woman s 
soft, white skin. 

1 66 



DEAD LEAVES 

" Benilo ! " she called to him. He turned and came slowly 
back. 

" Benilo," she continued nervously, " release me from this 
wager ! I cannot go on I cannot. If he is bent upon leaving 
the world, let him retire in peace and do not stir the misery 
which lies couchant in the hidden depths of his soul. He has 
suffered enough, more than enough, more than should 
fall to one man s lot. Do not drive me to madness, I 
cannot do it I cannot." 

" Your thoughts are only for him. For me you have noth 
ing," he replied fiercely. 

" I owe him everything nothing to you! " 

" Then go to him, to release you, I will not! " 

" I cannot do it ! Be merciful ! " 

The Chamberlain bowed and answered mockingly. 

" It rests with you ! " 

" With me ? " 

" Acknowledge your defeat! " 

" What do you mean ? " she asked with rising fear. 

Benilo shrugged his shoulders. 

" We made a wager the loser pays." 

" But the forfeit ? " she cried in terror. " You would not 
claim you would not chain me to you for ever ? " 

He regarded her with a slow triumphant smile and answered 
cruelly : 

" Forever ? At one time the thought had less terrors for 
you!" 

She disregarded his sarcasm, continuing in the same plaintive 
tone of entreaty, which was music in Benilo s ear. 

" But surely you do not mean it ! You would not profit 
by a woman s angry folly. I was mad, insane, I knew 
not what I said, what I did ! Benilo, I will admit defeat, - 
failure, anything, only release me from this fearful 
wager. I ask you as a man, have pity on me ! " 

167 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" What pity have you lavished on me ? " 

" Were you deserving of pity ? " 

" My love " 

" Your love ! What is your love, but the lust of the wild 
beast ? " she exclaimed, flying into a passion, but instantly 
checking herself. 

" Think of it, Benilo," she urged in desperation, " I could 
conquer, if I would. Once Eckhardt lays eyes on me, I can 
lead him to my will. Never can I forget the look he gave me 
when I faced him before my own tomb in the churchyard of 
San Pancrazio. Never will that wild expression of despair and 
longing, which spoke to me from his mute eyes, fade from 
my memory. Whether he believed that I was a pale, mocking 
phantom what he imagined that I was, I know not I 
could win him, if I would." 

"Then win him!" snarled Benilo, through his straight 
thin lips. 

"No! No!" she cried piteously. "Eckhardt is noble. 
He believed in me, he trusted me. He believes me dead. 
He has no inkling of the vile thing I am! I listened to his 
prayer to the Virgin once more he asked to see the face of 
the woman he had loved above everything on earth. And you 
ask me to tear the veil from his eyes and drag him down into 
the sloth and slime of my existence ! His faith falls upon me 
like a knotted scourge, his love a blow upon my guilty 
head. He gave me life-long love in payment for a lie ; he gave 
me love unwavering and true beyond the grave. When I 
think of it all I long to die of shame ! You caused me to 
believe he was dead, that he had fallen defending the Eastern 
March. I thanked Heaven for the message ; I envied him his 
eternal rest. It was one of your black deceits, perhaps one 
of your mildest. Let it pass ! But again to enter into his life - 
No! no! " she moaned. " By the God of Love I will not! " 

She gave a wild moan and covered her face with her hands. 

168 



DEAD LEAVES 

Benilo looked on in silence, scarce crediting the proof of 
sight and sound. Once twice he moved his lips, ere speech 
would flow. 

" You have but to choose," he said. " Come to me my 
wife or concubine, I care not which, and I pledge you my 
word, he shall die! I have but spared him until I sounded 
your humour! " 

She shivered, and raised her hands as if to conjure away 
some apparition. 

" No no never! " she gasped. " You would not dare! 
You would not dare ! You are but frightening me ! Have pity 
on me and let me go! " 

" I do not detain you ! Go if you will, but remember the 
wager! " 

Her head drooped, while Benilo drew nearer, bending his 
exultant eyes on her wilted form, and hi the passion which 
mastered him, he grasped her wrists and drew her hands 
apart, then kissed her passionately upon the lips. 

With a hunted cry, she wrenched herself away, and leaping 
backward, faced him, her voice choked with panting fury : 

" Fool ! Devil ! Coward ! Could you not respect a woman s 
grief for the degradation you have forced upon her? Dog! 
I might have paid your forfeit had I died of shame ! But now 
I will not ! " She snapped her fingers in his face. " This for 
your wager ! This for an oath to you the vermin of the 
earth! " 

Benilo took a backward step, awed by the flaming madness 
in her eyes. 

" Take care ! " he growled threateningly. 

" The vermin that crawls in the dust, I say," she reiterated 
panting, "the dust the dust! Better a thousand deaths 
than the brute love you offer! Between us it is a duel to the 
death ! I will win him back, if I have to barter my evil 
beauty for eternal damnation, if our entwined souls burn 

169 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

to crisp in purgatory, I will win him back, revealing my 
self to him the foul thing I am, and by way of contrast 
sing your praises, my Lord Benilo believe me, the devils 
themselves shall be wroth with jealousy at my song." 

There was something hi the woman s eye, which staggered 
the Chamberlain. 

" You would not dare ! " he exclaimed aghast. 

" I dare everything ! You have challenged me and now 
your coward soul quails before the issue ! You would have 
me recede, go ! I ve done with you ! " 

" Not yet," Benilo replied, with his sinister drawl edging 
nearer the woman. " I have something else to say to you! 
Your words are but air! You have measured your strength 
with mine and failed! Go to your old time love! Tell him 
you found a conscience, tell him where you found it, 
and see if he allows you leisure to confess all your other 
peccadilloes, trifling though they be ! Still the risk is 
equal. I have a mind to take the chance ! Once more, Theo 
dora, confess yourself defeated, acknowledge that the 
champion is beyond your reach be mine and the wager 
shall be wiped out! " 

She recoiled from him, raising her hands hi unfeigned 
horror and cried : 

" Never never." 

Benilo shrugged his shoulders. 

" As you will ! " 

" Then you would have me make him untrue to his vows ? 
You would have me add this sin too, to my others ? " 

He laughed sardonically, while he feasted his eyes on her 
great beauty. 

" It will not add much to the burden, I ween." 

She gave him one look, in which fear mingled with contempt 
and turned to go, when with a spring, stealthy as the pan 
ther s, he overtook her, and pinning down her arms, bent 

170 



DEAD LEAVES 

back the proud head and once more pressed his lips upon the 
woman s. 

With a cry like a wounded animal she released herself, 
pushed him back with the strength of her vigorous youth and 
spat hi his face. 

" Do you still desire me ? " she hissed with flaming eyes. 

He sprang at her with a furious oath, but his outstretched 
fingers grasped the air. Theodora had vanished. Recoiling 
from the towering forms of the Africans, who guarded the 
corridor leading to her apartments, Benilo staggered blindly 
back into the dark deserted halls. Here he found himself face 
to face with Hezilo the harper, who seemed to rise out of the 
shadows like some ill-omened phantom. 

" If you waver now," the harper spoke with his strange 
unimpassioned voice, " you are lost ! " 

The Chamberlain stopped before the harper s arresting 
words. 

" What can I do ? " he groaned with a deep breath. " My 
soul half sinks beneath the mighty burden I have heaped upon 
it, it quails before the fatal issue." 

" You have measured your strength with the woman s," 
replied the harper. " She has felt the conquering whip-hand. 
Onward ! Unflinchingly ! Relentlessly ! She dare not face the 
final issue ! " 

" I need new courage, as the dread hour approaches! " 
Benilo replied, his breath coming fast between his set teeth. 
" And from your words, your looks, I drink it ! " 

" Then take it from this also: If now you fail hardly the 
grave would be a refuge." 

Benilo peered up at his strange counsellor. 

" Man or devil, who are you to read the depths of the soul 
of man ? " he queried amazed, vainly endeavouring to penetrate 
the vizor, which shaded the harper s face. 

" Perhaps neither," a voice answered which seemed to come 

171 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

from the remotest part of the great hall, yet it was Hezilo the 
harper, who spoke, " Perchance some spirit, permitted to 
return to earth to goad man to his final and greatest fall." 

" It shall be as you say ! " Benilo spoke, rousing himself. 
"Onward! Relentlessly! Unflinchingly!" 

He staggered from the hall. 

" Perhaps I too should have flagged and failed, had not one 
thought whispered hope to me hi the long and solitary hours 
which fill up the interstices of time," muttered the harper, 
gazing after the Chamberlain s vanishing form. 

The voices died to silence. The pale light of dawn peered 
into the deserted hall. 



172 



CHAPTER XIV 



THE PHANTOM AT THE SHRINE 




T last the evening had come, 
when Eckhardt was for ever to 
retire from the world, to spend 
the remainder of his days in 
prayers and penances, within 
the dismal walls of the cloister. 
The pontiff himself was to 
officiate at the high ceremony, 
which was to close the last 
chapter in the great general s 
life. Daylight was fading fast, and the faint light, which 
still glimmered through the western windows of St. Peter s 
Basilica had long since lost its sunset ruddiness and was little 
more than a pale shadow. The candles, their mighty rival 
departed, blazed higher now in merry fitfulness, delighting to 
play in grotesque imagery over the monkish faces, which 
haunted the gloom. 

One end of the Basilica was now luminous with the pale 
glow of innumerable slender tapers of every length, ranged hi 
gradated order round the altar. Their mellow radiance drove 
the gloom a quarter of the way down the cathedral. The 
massive bronze doors at the farther end were still shut and 
locked. The only way of entering the church was through 
the sacristy, by way of the north transepts, to which only the 
monks had access. No sound that should ring out within 
these mighty walls to-night could reach the ears of those who 
might be hi the streets without. 

173 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Meanwhile the quiescent echoes of the vast Basilica were 
disturbed by fitful murmurs from the Sacristy. Far in the 
distance, from the north transept, might be distinguished 
light footfalls. Slowly a double file of monks entered the 
church, walking to the rhythm of a subdued processional chant, 
which rose through the sombre shadows of the aisles. At the 
same time the great portals of the Basilica were thrown open 
to the countless throngs, which had been waiting without and 
which now, like waters released from the impediment of a 
dam, rushed into the immense area, waiting to receive them. 

The rumour of Eckhardt s impending consecration had 
added no little to the desire of the Romans to be present at a 
spectacle such as had not within the memory of man fallen to 
their lot to behold, and it seemed as if all Rome had flocked to 
the ancient Basilica to witness the great and touching ordeal 
at which the youthful Pontiff himself was to officiate. Seem 
ingly interminable processions of monks, bearing huge waxen 
tapers, of choristers, acolytes and incense-bearers, with a 
long array of crosses and other holy emblems continued to 
pour into the Basilica. The priests were hi their bright robes 
of high-ceremony. The choristers chanted a psalm as they 
passed on and the incense bearers swung their silver censers. 

The Pontiff s face was a rarely lovely one to look upon; 
it was that of a mere youth. His chin was smooth as any 
woman s and the altar cloth was not as white as his delicate 
hands. The halo of golden hair, which encircled his tonsure, 
gave him the appearance of a saint. Marvellously, indeed, 
did stole, mitre and staff become the delicate face and figure 
of Bruno of Carinthia, and if there was some incongruity 
between the spun gold of his fair hair and the severity of the 
mitre, which surrounded it, there was none in all that assembly 
to note it. 

At the door, awaiting the pontifical train, stood the venerable 
Gerbert of Aurillac, impressive in his white and gold dalmatica 

174 



THE PHANTOMAT THE SHRINE 

against the red robes of the chapter. Preceded by two cardinals 
the Pontiff mounted the steps, entering through the great 
bronze portals of the Basilica, which poured a wave of music 
and incense out upon the hushed piazza. Then they closed 
again, engulfing the brilliant procession. 

The chant ceased and the monks silently ranged themselves 
in a close semi-circle about the high-altar. There was a brief 
and impressive silence, while the deep, melodious voice of 
the Archbishop of Rheims was raised in prayer. The monks 
chanted the Agnus Dei, then a deep hush of expectation fell 
upon the multitudes. 

The faint echoes of approaching footsteps now broke the 
intense silence which pervaded the immense area of the Basil 
ica. Accompanied by two monks, Eckhardt slowly strode down 
the aisle, which the reverential tread of millions had already 
worn to unevenness. In an obscured niche he had waited 
their signal, racked by doubts and fears, and less convinced 
than ever that the final step he was about to take would lead 
to the desired goal. From his station he could distinguish 
faint silhouettes of the glittering spars in the vaulting, and 
the sculptured chancel, twisted and beaten into fantastic 
shapes and the line of ivory white Apostles. As he approached 
the monks gathered closely round the chancel, where, under 
the pontifical canopy, stood the golden chair of the Vicar of 
Christ. 

Eckhardt did not raise his eyes. Once only, as in mute 
questioning, did his gaze meet that of Gregory, then he knelt 
before the altar. His ardent desire was about to be fulfilled. 
As this momentous time approached, Eckhardt s hesitation 
in taking the irrevocable step seemed to dimmish and 
gradually to vanish. He was even full of impatient joy. Never 
did bridegroom half so eagerly count the hours to his wedding, 
as did the German leader the moments which were for ever to 
relieve him of that gnawing pain that consumed bis soul. 

175 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

In the broken fitful slumber of the preceding night he had seen 
himself chanting the mass. To be a monk seemed to him now 
the last and noblest refuge from the torments which gnawed 
the strings of his heart. At this moment he would have dis 
dained the estate of an emperor or king. There was no choice 
left now. The bridge leading into the past was destroyed and 
Eckhardt awaited his anointment more calmly. 

Gregory s face was grave and to a close observer it would 
have appeared to withhold approval from that which added 
greater glory to the Church, as if anticipating proportionately 
greater detriment for the state. As Eckhardt knelt in silent 
prayer, all but entranced in religious ecstasy, he noted not the 
nearness of Benilo, who watched him like a tiger from the half 
gloom of his station. The hush in the Basilica was well-nigh 
oppressive. The Romans, who had flocked hither to witness 
the uncommon sight of a victorious leader abandoning the 
life at a court for the cassock of a monk, and perhaps inwardly 
calculating the immense consequences of a step so grave, 
waited breathlessly until that step should be accomplished. 
Those whose sympathies lay with the imperial party were 
filled with grave misgivings, for if Eckhardt s example found 
imitators in the German host, the cause of the emperor would 
grow weaker in proportion as the prestige of the Romans and 
the monks increased. 

The benediction had been pronounced. The Communion 
in both kind had been partaken. The palms of Eckhardt had 
been anointed with consecrated oil, and finally the celebra 
tion of the Holy Rite had been offered up hi company with the 
officiating Cardinal. 

It was done. There remained little more than the cutting 
of the tonsure, and from the world, which had once claimed 
him from the world to which he still unconsciously clung 
with fevered pulses, Eckhardt was to vanish for ever. As the 
officiating Cardinal of San Gregorio approached the kneeling 

176 



THE PHANTOMAT THE SHRINE 

general, the latter chanced to raise his head. A deadly pallor 
overspread his features as his eyes gazed beyond the ecclesias 
tic at one of the great stone pillars, half of which was wrapt in 
dense gloom. The ceremony, so splendid a moment ago, 
seemed to fade before the aspect of those terrible eyes, which 
peered into his own from a woman s face, pale as death. 
Throughout the church darkness seemed suddenly to reign. 
The candles paled in their sconces of gold before the glare of 
those eyes, calculated to make or mar the destinies of man. 

Against the incense saturated gloom, her beauty shone out 
like a heavenly revelation ; she seemed herself the fountain of 
light, to give it rather than to receive it. For a moment Eck- 
hardt lowered his gaze, little doubting but that the apparition 
was some new temptation of the fiend, to make him waver at 
the decisive moment. The ceremony proceeded. But when 
after a few moments, not being able to withstand the lure, he 
looked up again, he saw her glittering in a bright penumbra, 
which dazzled him like the burning disk of the sun. And as 
he gazed upon the strange apparition, tall with the carriage of 
a goddess, her eyes darting rays like stars, winging straight 
for his heart and she the very image of his dead wife, just 
as she had appeared to him on that memorable night in the 
churchyard of San Pancrazio, he hardly knew whether the 
flame that lighted those orbs came from heaven to strengthen 
his resolve, or from hell, to foil it. But from devil or angel 
assuredly it came. 

Her white teeth shone in the terrible smile, with which she 
regarded him. The smooth alabaster skin of her throat glistened 
with a pearly sheen. Her white robe, falling from her head to 
her feet, straight as the winding sheet of death, matched the 
marble pallor of her complexion, and her hands, seemingly 
holding the shroud in place, were as white as fresh fallen snow. 

As Eckhardt continued to gaze upon her, he felt the flood 
gates of his memory re-open; he felt the portals of the past, 

177 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

which had seemed locked and barred, swing back upon their 
hinges, grating deep down in his soul. And with the sight of 
the phantom standing before him, so life-like, so beautiful, 
all the mad longing bounded back into his heart. Gripped by 
a terrible pain, he heard neither the chant, nor the words of 
the Cardinal. Everything around him seemed to fade, but the 
terrible being still held his gaze with those deep and marvellous 
eyes, that had all the brightness and life of the sapphire seas. 

Eckhardt felt he was being carried far from the sphere of 
the cloister into a world at whose gates new desires were 
knocking. While he mechanically muttered the responses to 
the queries, which the Cardinal put to him, his whole soul 
began to rise in arms against the words his tongue was uttering. 
A secret force seemed to drag them from him, he felt the gaze 
of the thousands weighing upon him like a cope of lead. Yet 
it seemed that no one in all that vast assembly heeded the 
strange apparition, and if there appeared any hesitancy in 
Eckhardt s responses, or a strange restlessness in his de 
meanour, it was charged to the consciousness of the mo- 
mentuous change, the responsibility of the irrevocable step, 
crushing life, ambition and hope. 

But the countenance of the mysterious apparition did not 
change as the ceremony progressed. Steadfastly, with tender 
and caressing gaze she seemed to regard him, her whole soul 
in her straining eyes. With an effort, which might have 
moved a mountain, Eckhardt strove to cry out, that he would 
never be a monk. It was in vain. His tongue clove to the 
roof of his mouth. Not even by sign could he resist. Wide 
awake, he seemed to be in the throes of one of those nightmares, 
wherein one cannot utter the words on which life itself depends. 
The apparition seemed instinctively to read and to comprehend 
the torture, which racked Eckhardt s breast. And the glance 
she cast upon him seemed so fraught with the echoes of despair, 
that it froze his heart to the core. 

178 



THE PHANTOM AT THE SHRINE 

Was it indeed but an apparition ? 

Was this terrible semblance to his dead wife more than a 
mere accident ? 

The chalice, with the blood of Christ, trembled in Eckhardt s 
hand. He was about to pass it to his lips. But try as he 
might, he could not avert his gaze. Those terrible eyes, the 
marble calm of the face of his dead wife seemed to draw him 
onward, onward. Forgotten was church, and ceremony, 
and vow; forgotten everything before that phantom from 
beyond the grave. It held him with a power which mocked to 
scorn every effort to escape its spell. The apparition lured 
him on, as almost imperceptibly it began to recede, without 
once abandoning its gaze. 

A wild shriek re-echoed through the high-vaulted dome 
of the Basilica of St. Peter. It was the shriek of a mad 
man, who has escaped his guards, but fears to be overtaken. 
The golden chalice fell from Eckhardt s nerveless grasp, spilling 
its contents over the feet of the Cardinal of San Gregorio who 
raised his hands in unfeigned dismay and muttered an anath 
ema. Then, with a white, wet face, Eckhardt staggered blindly 
to his feet, groping, with outstretched arms, toward the appari 
tion which seemed to recede farther and farther away into 
the gloom. 

The hush of death had fallen upon the assembly. The monk 
Cyprianus raised aloft his arms, as though invoking divine in 
terposition and exorcising the fiend. His eyes, the eyes of the 
assembled thousands and the stare of Benilo, the Chamberlain, 
followed the direction of Eckhardt s outstretched arms. Sud 
denly he was seen to pause before one of the massive pillars, 
pale as death, mumbling strange words, accompanied by 
stranger gestures. Then he gazed about like one waking from 
a terrible dream the spot where the apparition had mocked 
him but a moment ago was deserted ! Had it been but another 
temptation of the fiend ? 

179 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

But no! It was impossible. This woman had made him 
utterly her own; her glance had sufficed to snap asunder the 
fetters of a self-imposed yoke, as though her will, powerful even 
after death, had suddenly passed upon him. Though he saw 
her not at the present moment, he had but to close his eyes, 
to see her as distinctly as if she were still present hi the body. 
And hi that moment Eckhardt felt all the horrors of the path 
he was about to choose, the dead and terrible aspect of the life 
he was about to espouse. To be a monk, to crawl till death 
in the chill shade of the cloister, to see none save living 
spectres, to watch by the nameless corpses of folks unknown, 
to wear his raiment for his coffin s pall a terrible dread 
seized him. One brief hour spent before an altar and some gab 
bled words were about to cut him off for ever from the society of 
the living. With his own hand he was about to seal the stone 
upon his tomb, and turn the key in the lock of the door of Life. 

Like a whirlwind these thoughts passed through Eckhardt s 
brain. Then he imagined once more that he saw the eyes of 
his dead wife gazing upon him, burning into the very depths 
of his soul. What made their aspect so terrible to him, he was 
not just then in the frame to analyze. Some mysterious 
force, which had left the sweetness of her face unmarred, 
seemed to have imparted something to her eyes that inspired 
him with an unaccountable dread. 

As he paused thus before the pillar, pressing his icy hands 
to his fevered temples, vainly groping for a solution, vainly 
endeavouring to break the fetters which bound his will and 
seemed to crush his strength, there broke upon his ears the 
loud command of the officiating monk, to return and bid the 
Fiend desist. These words broke the deadly spell which had 
benumbed his senses and caused him to remain riveted to 
the spot, where the phantom had hovered. His sunken eyes 
glared as those of a madman, as he slowly turned in response 
to the monk s behest. The hot breath came panting from be- 

180 



THE PHANTOM AT THE SHRINE 

tween his parched lips. Then, without heeding the ceremony, 
without heeding the monks or the spectators who had flocked 
hither to witness his consecration, Eckhardt dashed through 
the circle of which he had formed the central figure and, ere 
the amazed spectators knew what happened or the monks could 
stem his precipitate flight, the chief of the imperial hosts 
rushed out of the church in his robes of consecration and 
vanished from sight. 

So quickly, so unexpectedly did it all happen, that even the 
officiating Cardinal seemed completely paralyzed by the sud 
denness of Eckhardt s flight. There was no doubt in the mind 
of Cyprianus that the Margrave had gone mad and his whispered 
orders sent two monks speeding after the demented neophyte. 
Deep, ominous silence hovered over the vast area of the Basilica. 
It seemed as if the very air was fraught with deep portent, and 
ominous forebodings of impending danger filled the hearts of 
the assembled thousands. The people knelt in silent prayer 
and breathless expectation. Would Eckhardt return ? Would 
the ceremony proceed ? 

Among all those, who had so eagerly watched the uncommon 
spectacle of whose crowning glory they were about to see them 
selves deprived, there was but one to whom the real cause of 
the scene which had just come to a close, was no mystery. 
Benilo alone knew the cause of Eckhardt s flight. To the 
last moment he had triumphed, convinced that no temptation 
could turn from his chosen path a mind so stern as Eckhardt s. 
But when the effect of the mysterious vision upon the kneeling 
general became apparent, when his restlessness grew with 
every moment, up to the terrible climax, accentuated by his 
madman s yell, when, unmindful of the monk s admonition 
he saw him rush out of the church in his consecrated robes 
then Benilo knew that the general would not return. For the 
time all the insolent boastfulness of his nature forsook him 
and he shivered as one seized with a sudden chill. Without 

181 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

awaiting what was to come, unseen and unnoticed amidst 
the all-pervading consternation, the Chamberlain rushed out 
of the Basilica by the same door through which Eckhardt 
had gained the open. 

Under his canopy sat the Vice-Gerent of Christ, surrounded 
by the consecrated cardinals and bishops and the monks of 
the various orders. Without an inkling of the true cause 
prompting Eckhardt s precipitate flight Gregory had witnessed 
the terrible scene, which had just come to a close. But in 
wardly he rejoiced. For only when every opposition to Eck 
hardt s mad desire had appeared fruitless, had the Pontiff 
acquiesced in granting to him the special dispensation, which 
shortened the time of his novitiate to the limit of three days. 

But it was not a matter for the moment, for Gregory himself 
was to partake of the Communion and the monk Cyprianus, 
who was to perform the holy office, a tribute to the order 
whose superior he was, had just blessed the host. In his 
consecrated hand the wine was to turn into the blood of Christ, 
Gregory had just partaken of the holy wafer. Now the monk 
placed the golden tube in the golden chalice and, drawing his 
cowl deeply over his forehead, passed the other end of the 
tube to the Pontiff. 

Gregory placed the golden tube to his lips, and as he sipped 
the wine, changed into blood, the two cardinals on duty ap 
proached the sacred throne, a torch in one hand, a small 
bundle of tow in the other. According to custom they set the 
tow on fire. 

Again the unison chant of the monks resounded; the 
assembled thousands lying prostrate in prayer. 

Suddenly there arose a strange bustle round the pontifical 
canopy. Suppressed murmurs broke the silence. Monks were 
to be seen rushing hither and thither. Gregory had fainted ! 
The monk Cyprianus seemed vainly endeavouring to revive 
him. For a moment the crowds remained in awe-struck 

182 



THE PHANTOM AT THE SHRINE 

silence, then, as if the grim spectre of Death had visibly ap 
peared amongst them, the terror-stricken worshippers rushed 
out of the Basilica of St. Peter and soon the terrible rumour 
was rife in the streets of Rome. Pope Gregory the Fifth was 
dying. 



183 



CHAPTER XV 




THE DEATH WATCH 

HE sun had sunk to rest and 
the noises of the day were 
dying out, one by one. The 
deep hush of the hour of dusk 
settled once more over the city, 
shaken to its very depths by 
the terrible catastrophe and up 
heaved by the fanaticism of the 
monks, who roused the populace 
to a paroxysm of frenzy and 
fear which gave way to pandemonium itself, when the feelings 
of the masses, strung to their utmost tension, leaped into the 
opposite extreme. Crescentius had remained shut up hi Castel 
San Angelo, but the monk Cyprianus could be seen stalking 
through the city at the hour of dusk, and whosoever met him 
crossed himself devoutly, and prayed to have time for con 
fession, when the end was nigh. 

The importance of the impending change impressed itself 
upon every mind. The time when worldly power alone could 
hope to successfully cope with the crying evils of a fast decaying 
age, of a world, grown old and stale and rotten, upon which 
had not yet fallen the beam of the Renaissance, was not yet at 
hand, and the fatal day of Canossa had not yet illumined the 
century with its lurid glare. 

Therefore Otto had chosen Bruno, the friend of his boyhood, 
for the highest honours in Christendom, Bruno, one in mind, 
one in soul with himself, and the Conclave had by its vote 

184 



THE DEATH WATCH 

ratified the imperial choice. But Bruno himself had not wished 
the honour. While he shared the high ideals of his royal 
friend he lacked that confidence in himself, which was so 
essential a requirement for the ruler whose throne swayed 
on the storm-tossed billows of the Roman See. Bruno was 
of a rather retrospective turn of mind, and it was doubtful, 
whether he would be able to carry out the sweeping reforms 
planned by Theophano s idealistic son, and regarded with 
secret abhorrence by the Italian cardinals. Only with the aid 
of the venerable Gerbert had Gregory consented to enter upon 
the grave duties awaiting him at the head of the Christian 
world at a time when that world seemed to totter in its very 
foundations. And he had paid the penalty, cut down in the 
prime of life. 

In the Vatican chapel on a bier, round which were burning 
six wax candles in silver-sticks, lay the fast decaying body of 
Gregory V. Terrible rumours concerning the Pontiff s death 
were abroad in the city. The doors of the Pope s private apart 
ments had been found locked from within. The terrified 
attendants had not ventured to return to the Vatican until the 
gray morning light of the succeeding day broke behind the 
crests of the Apennines. They had broken down the door, 
rumour had it, but to recoil from the terrible sight which met 
their eyes. On his bed lay the dead Pontiff. The head and 
right arm almost touched the floor, as if in the death-struggle 
he had lost his balance. Traces of burnt parchment on the 
floor and an empty phial on the table beside him intensified, 
rather than cleared up the mystery. And as they approached, 
terror-stricken, and endeavoured to lift the body, the right arm 
almost severed itself from the trunk at their touch, and the body 
was fast turning black. The handsome features of the youth 
were gray and drawn, his hair clammy and dishevelled and the 
open eyes stared frightfully into space as if vainly searching 
for the murderer. 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Whatever Gerbert s suspicions were when, too late, he ar 
rived in the death chamber, no hint escaped his lips. Under 
his personal care the body of the hapless youth was prepared 
for interment, then he hurriedly convoked the Conclave and 
ordered the gates of Rome closed against any one attempting 
to leave the city. 

The Vatican chapel was hung with funereal tapestry. 
Everywhere were seen garlands of flowers entwined with 
branches of cypress. In the middle of the chapel stood the bier, 
covered with black velvet. A choir of monks, robed in vest 
ments of black damask, was chanting the last Requiem. The 
Cardinal of Sienna was conducting the last rites. As the 
echoes of the chant died away under the vaulted arches, a 
monk approached the bier, and sprinkled the corpse with holy 
water. The Cardinal pronounced the benediction; the monk 
bent slightly over the body when a drop from the forehead of 
the dead Pontiff rebounded to his face. He shuddered and 
hastily retreated behind the monks, who formed into the 
recessional. Only two remained in the chapel. Contrary to 
all custom they extinguished the candles which had burnt 
down half-way. The smaller ones they left to flicker out, 
until they should pitifully flare up once more, then to go out 
in the great darkness like the soul of man, when his hour has 
come. 

The last and only one to remain within the chapel to hold 
the death-watch with the Pontiff, was Eckhardt, the Margrave. 
Wrapt in his dark fancies he sat beside the bier. After his 
precipitate flight all memory of what succeeded had vanished. 
Exhausted and tottering he had found himself in the palace 
on the Caelian Mount, where he shut himself up till the terrible 
tidings of the Pontiff s death penetrated to the solitude of his 
abode. Now it seemed to him that the moment he would set 
foot in the streets of Rome, some dark and fearful revelation 
awaited him. Since that night, when the strange apparition 

186 



THE DEATH WATCH 

had drawn him from the altars of Christ, had caused him to 
renounce the vows his lips were about to pronounce, a terrible 
fear and suspicion had gripped his soul. The presentiment of 
some awful mystery haunted him night and day, as he brooded 
over the terrible fascination of those eyes, which had laid their 
spell upon him, the amazing resemblance of the apparition to 
the wife of his soul, long dead in her grave. And the more he 
pondered the heavier grew his heart within him, and he 
groped in vain for a ray of light on his dark and lonely path, 
vainly for a guiding hand, to conduct him from the labyrinth 
of doubt and fear into the realms of oblivion and peace. The 
Margrave s senses reeled from the heavy fumes of flowers and 
incense, which filled the Basilica. The light from a cresset- 
lantern on the wall, contending singly with the pale mournful 
rays of the moon, which cast a dim light through the long 
casement, over pillars and aisles, fell athwart his pallid face. 
The terrible incidents of the past night, which had thrown him 
back into the throes of the world, and had snuffed out the 
Pontiff s life, weighed heavily upon him, and for the nonce, 
the commander abandoned every attempt to clear the terrible 
mystery which enshrouded him. He almost despaired of com 
bating the spectre single-handed, and now the one man, who 
might by counsel and precept have guided his steps, had been 
struck down by the assassin s hand. 

The sanctity of the place, the solemnity of the hour, and the 
deep silence around were well calculated to deepen the melan 
choly mood of the solitary watcher. Weird were the fancies 
that swept over his mind, memories of a long forgotten past, 
and dim, indistinct plans for the future, till at length, wearied 
with his own reflections over that saddest of all earthly enigmas, 
what might have been, he seated himself on a low bench beside 
the bier. The moonbeams grew fainter and more faint, as the 
time wore on, and the sharp distinction between light and 
shadow faded fast from the marble floor. 

187 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Thicker and thicker drooped the shadows round the bier 
of the dead Pontiff. The silence semed to deepen. The moon 
was gone. Save for the struggling rays of the cresset-lantern 
above him, the blackness of night closed round the solemn 
and ghostly scene. 

The scent of flowers and the fumes of incense weighed 
heavily on Eckhardt s senses. Vainly did he combat the 
drowsiness; the silence, the dim light and the heavy fumes at 
last laid their benumbing spell upon him and lulled him to 
sleep. His head fell back and his eyes closed. 

But his sleep was far from calm. Weird dreams beset him. 
Again he lived over the terrible ordeal of the preceding night. 
Again he saw himself surrounded, hemmed in by a vast con 
course. Again he saw the phantom at the shrine, the phantom 
with Ginevra s face, Ginevra s eyes; again he heard her 
strange luring words. The wine spilled from the sacred 
chalice looked like blood on the marble stairs of the altar. He 
heard his own voice, strange, unearthly ; gripped by a choking 
sensation he rushed from the crowded Basilica, the air of which 
seemed to stifle him, rushed hi pursuit of the phantom 
with Ginevra s face, Ginevra s eyes. At the threshold of the 
church a hand seized his own, a woman s hand. How long, 
since he had felt a woman s hand in his own ! It was cold as 
the skin of a serpent, yet it burnt like fire. And the hand drew 
him onward, ever onward. There was no resisting the gaze 
of those eyes which burnt into his own. 

A deep azure overspread the sky. The trees were clothed in 
the raiment of spring. Blindly he staggered onward. Blindly 
he followed his strange guide through groves, fragrant with 
the perfumes of flowers, the air seemed as a bower of love. 
The hand drew him onward with its chill, yet burning touch. 
The way seemed endless. Faster and faster grew their speed. 
At last they seemed to devour the way. The earth flitted 
beneath them as a gray shadow. The black trees fled in the 

188 



darkness like an army in rout. They delved into glens, gloomy 
and chill. The night-birds clamoured in the forest deeps; 
will-o -the-wisps gleamed over stagnant pools and now and 
then the burning eyes of spectres pierced the gloom, who 
lined a dark avenue in their nebulous shrouds. 

And the hand drew him onward ever onward ! Neither 
spoke. Neither questioned. At last he found himself in a 
churchyard. The scent of faded roses hovered on the air like 
the memory of a long-forgotten love. They passed tomb 
stone after tombstone, gray, crumbling, with defaced inscrip 
tions; the spectral light of the moon in its last quarter dimly 
illumined their path till at last they reached a stone half hidden 
behind tall weeds and covered with ivy, moss and lichen. The 
earth had been thrown up from the grave, which yawned to 
receive its inmate. Owls and bats flocked and flapped about 
them with strange cries ; the foxes barked their answer far away 
and a thousand evil sounds rose from the stillness. As they 
paused before the yawning grave he gazed up into his com 
panion s face. Pale as marble Ginevra stood by his side, 
the long white shroud flowing unbroken to her feet. Through 
the smile of her parted lips gleamed her white teeth, as 
she pointed downward, to the narrow berth, then her arms en 
circled his neck like rings of steel; her eyes seemed to pierce 
his own, he felt unable to breathe, he felt his strength giving 
way, together they were sinking into the night of the grave 

A shrill cry resounded through the silence of the Basilica. 
Awakened by the terrible oppression of his dream, roused 
by the sound of his own voice, Eckhardt opened his eyes and 
gazed about, fearstruck and dismayed. After a moment or 
two he arose, to shake off the spell, which had laid its be 
numbing touch upon him, when he suddenly recoiled, then 
stood rooted to the spot with wild, dilated eyes. At the foot of 
the Pontiff s bier stood the tall form of a woman. The fitful 
rays of the cresset-lantern above him illumined her white, 

189 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

flowing garb. A white transparent veil drooped from her head 
to her feet; but the diaphanous texture revealed a face pale 
and beautiful, and eyes which held him enthralled with their 
slumbrous, mesmeric spell. Breathless with horror Eckhardt 
gazed upon the apparition ; was it but the continuation of his 
dream or was he going mad ? 

As the phantom slowly began to recede into the shadows, 
Eckhardt with a supreme effort shook off the lethargy which 
benumbed his limbs. He dared remain no longer inert, he 
must penetrate the mystery, whatever the cost, whatever the 
risk. With imploring, outstretched arms he staggered after 
the apparition, if apparition indeed it was, straining his 
gaze towards her slowly receding form and so absorbed was 
he in his pursuit, that he saw not the shadow which glided 
into the mortuary chapel. Suddenly some dark object hurled 
itself against him; quick as a flash, and ere he could draw a 
second breath, a dagger gleamed before Eckhardt s eyes; he 
felt the contact of steel with his iron breast-plate, he heard 
the weapon snap asunder and fall at his feet, but when he 
recovered from his surprise, the would-be assassin, without 
risking a second stroke, had fled and the apparition seemed to 
have melted into air. Eckhardt found himself alone with the 
dead body of the Pontiff. 

With loud voice he called for the sentry, stationed without, 
and when that worthy at last made his appearance, his heavy, 
drooping eyelids and his drowsy gait did not argue in favour 
of too great a watchfulness. Making the sentry doff his heavy 
iron shoes, Eckhardt bade him secure a torch, then he made 
the round of the chapel, preceded by his stolid companion. 
The Margrave s anxiety found slight reflex in the coarse features 
of his subordinate, who understood just enough of what was 
wanted of him to comprehend the disappointment in his 
master s countenance. As every door was locked and bolted, 
the only supposition remaining was that the bravo had dis- 

190 



THE DEATH WATCH 

covered some outlet from within. But Eckhardt s tests proved 
unavailing. The floor and the walls seemed of solid masonry 
which to penetrate seemed impossible. The broken blade 
offered no clue either to the author or perpetrator of this deed of 
darkness, and after commanding the sentry to keep his watch 
for the remainder of the night, inside, Eckhardt endeavoured 
once more to compose himself to rest, while the man-at-arms 
stretched his huge limbs before the pontifical bier. 

The bells of St. Peter s chimed shrill and loud as a mighty 
multitude, greater even than that of the preceding night, 
swept within its portals toward the chapel of Boniface VIII. 
There, rilling every inch of space, only the more fortunate of 
the crowd gained a glimpse of the coffin, which had been closed, 
for the corpse was decaying fast, the effect of the terrible and 
mysterious poison which had been mixed in the holy wine. 
At length, as the solemn chant of the choristers began to swell 
through the edifice, preluding the celebration of the Death 
Mass for the departed Pontiff, a silence as of the tomb pervaded 
the vast edifice. 

Thus the day wore on, thus the day departed. 

The solemn chant had died away. The sun of another day 
had set. 

The funeral cortege set in motion. Fifty torches surrounded 
the bier and so numerous were the lamps in the windows of the 
streets through which the funeral procession passed, so abun 
dant the showers of roses which poured upon the bier, that the 
people declared it surpassed the procession Corpus Domini. 

Interchanging solemn hymns, the cortege arrived at last 
before the church of San Pietro in Montorio, where the body 
was to be placed in the niche provisionally appointed, where 
it was to remain till the death of the succeeding pope should 
consign it to its final place of rest. 

The ceremony ended, the people dispersed. Few loiterers 
remained on the pavement of the church. The sacristan 

191 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

announced that it was about to be closed, and waiting until, 
as he thought, all had departed, he turned the ponderous 
doors on their hinges and shut them with a crash. The report, 
reverberating from arch to arch, shook the ancient sepulchre 
through its every angle. The lamps, which at wide intervals 
burned feebly before the shrines of the saints, lent additional 
solemnity and awe to the obscurity of the place. One torch 
was left to light a narrow circle round the entrance to the 
crypt. 

Silence had succeeded when out of the shadow of the tomb 
there passed two figures, who upon entering the narrow 
circle of light emanating from the dim, flickering taper, faced 
each other in mute amazement and surprise. 

" What are you doing here ? " spoke the one, hi the garb 
of a monk, as they stood revealed to each other hi the half 
gloom. 

With a gesture of horror and dismay the other, a woman, 
wrapt hi a dark mantle, which covered her tall and stately form 
from head to foot, turned away from him. 

" I give you back the question," she replied, dread and fear 
in her tones. 

" My presence here concerns the dead," said the monk. 

" They say, the hand of the dead Pontiff has touched his 
murderer." 

The monk paled. For a moment he almost lost his self- 
control. 

" He had to die some way," he replied with a shrug. 

"Monster!" she exclaimed, recoiling from him, as if she 
had seen a snake hi her path. 

" He travelled hi godly company," said the monk Cyprianus 
with a dark laugh. " An entire Conclave will welcome him 
at the gates of Paradise. Why are you here ? " the monk 
concluded, a shade of suspicion lingering in his tones. 

" Am I accountable to you ? " flashed Theodora. 

192 



THE DEATH WATCH 

" Being what you are through my intercession, per 
haps," replied the monk. 

She measured him with a look of unutterable contempt. 

" Because the prying eyes of a perjured wretch, who screened 
his vileness behind the cassock of the monk, dared to offend 
the majesty of Death and to disturb the repose of the departed, 
you come to me like some importunate slave dissatisfied with 
his hire ? You dare to constitute yourself my guardian, to 
call Theodora a thing of your creation ? Take care ! You 
speak to a descendant of Marozia. I have had enough of 
whimpering monks. For the service demanded of you hi a 
certain hour you have been paid. So clear the way, and 
trouble me no more ! " 

The monk did not stir. 

" The fair Theodora has not inherited Ginevra s memory," 
he said with a sneer. " The gold was to purchase the 
repose of Ginevra s soul." 

Theodora shuddered, as if oppressed with the memories of 
the past. 

" Candles and masses," she said, as one soliloquizing. " How 
signally they failed ! " 

The monk shrugged his shoulders. 

" If a thousand Aves, and tapers six foot long fail in their 
purpose, what undiscovered penance could perform the 
miracle ? " 

There was something in the gleam of the monk s eye which 
brought Theodora to herself. 

" What do you want of me ? " she questioned curtly. 

" The fulfilment of your pledge." 

" You have been paid." 

The monk waved his hands. 

" Tis not for gold, I have ventured this " 

And he pointed to the crypts below. 

She recoiled from him, regarding him with a fixed stare, 

193 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" What do you want of me ? " she again asked with a look, 
in which hate and wonder struggled for the mastery. 

" The new Conclave will be made up of your creatures. 
Their choice must fall on me! " 

" On the perjured assassin ? " shrieked the woman. " Out 
of my way! I ve done with you! " 

The monk stirred not. From his drawn white face two eyes 
like glowing coals burnt into those of the woman. 

" Remember your pledge! " 

" Out of my way, assassin ! Dare you so high ? The chair 
of St. Peter shall never be defiled by such a one as you ! " 

" And thus Theodora rewards the service rendered to 
Ginevra," the monk said, breathing hard, and making a 
step towards her. She watched him narrowly, her hand 
concealed under her cloak. 

" Dare but to touch the hem of this robe with your blood 
stained hands " 

Cyprianus retreated before the menace in her eyes. 

" I thought I had lived too long for surprises," he said 
calmly. " Yet, considering that I bear here hi this bosom a 
secret, which one, I know, would give an empire to obtain, 
Cyprianus can be found tractable." 

With a last glance at the woman s face, stony in its marble- 
cold disdain, the monk turned and left the church through the 
sacristy. For a moment Theodora remained as one spell 
bound, then she drew her mantle more closely about her and left 
the sepulchre by an exit situated in an opposite direction. No 
sooner had her footsteps died to silence when two shadowy 
forms sped noiselessly through the incense-saturated dusk of 
S. Pietro in Montorio, pausing on the threshold of the door, 
through which the monk Cyprianus had gained the open. 

" I need that man ! " whispered the taller into the ear of 
his companion, pointing with shadowy finger to the swiftly 
vanishing form of the monk. 

194 



THE DEATH WATCH 

The other nodded with a horrid grin, which glowed upon his 
visage like phosphorus upon a skull. 

With a quick nod of understanding, the Grand Chamberlain 
and John of the Catacombs quitted the steps of S. Pietro in 
Montorio. 

Darkness fell. 

Night enveloped the trembling world with her star em 
broidered robe of dark azure. 



195 



CHAPTER XVI 



THE CONCLAVE 




VAST concourse surrounded the 
portals of the Vatican. It 
seemed as if the entire popula 
tion of Rome, from the Porta 
del Popolo to the Coliseum, 
from the baths of Diocletian to 
Castel San Angelo, had as 
sembled by appointment hi the 
Piazza of St. Peter. For so 
dense was the multitude, that its 
pressure filled the adjacent thoroughfares, the crowds clinging 
round columns, winding along the broken outlines of the walls, 
and grouping themselves among the ruins of temples and fallen 
porticoes. 

The eyes of all were fixed upon that wing of the pontifical 
palace where the Conclave, hurriedly convoked, was assembled, 
and as Gregory V had now been dead sixteen days, the cardinals 
were proceeding with the election of a new Pope. Never pos 
sibly, from the hour when the first successor of St. Peter mounted 
the throne of the Apostle, had there been exhibited so much 
unrest and disquietude as there was hi this instance to be 
observed among the masses. The rumour that Gregory had 
died of poison had proved true, and the Romans had been seized 
with a strange fear, urging all ranks towards the Vatican or 
Monte Cavallo, according as the scarlet assembly held its 
sittings in one place or another. During the temporary in- 

196 



THE CONCLAVE 

terregnum, the Cardinal of Sienna, president of the Apostolic 
Chamber, had assumed the pontifical authority. 

For three days the eyes of the Romans had been fixed upon 
a chimney in the Vatican, whence the first signal should issue, 
proclaiming the result of the pending election. Yet at the hour 
when the Ave Maria announced the close of day, a small column 
of smoke, ascending like a fleecy cloud of vapour to the sky, 
had been the only reward for their anxiety, and with cries 
mingled with shouts of menace, discordant murmurs of 
raillery and laughter the crowds had each day dispersed. For 
the smoke announced that the the Romans were still without 
a Pontiff, that the ballot-list had been burnt, and that the 
Sacred College had not yet chosen a successor to Gregory. 

The day had been spent in anxious expectation. Hour 
passed after hour, without a sign either to destroy or to excite 
the hope, when the first stroke of five was heard. Slowly the bells 
tolled the hour, every note falling on the hearts of the people, 
whose anxious gaze was fixed on the chimney of the Vatican. 
The last stroke sounded; its vibrations faintly fading on the silent 
air of dusk, when a thunderous clamour, echoing from thousands 
of throats, shook the Piazza of St. Peter, succeeded by a death 
like silence of expectation as with a voice, loud and penetrating, 
Cardinal Colonna, who had stepped out upon the balcony, 
announced to the breathless thousands: 

" I announce to you tidings of great joy : Gerbert of Aurillac, 
Archbishop of Rheims, Bishop of Ravenna and Vice-Chancellor 
of the Church, has been elected to the exalted office of Pontiff 
and has ascended the chair of St. Peter under the name of 
Sylvester II." 

As the Cardinal finished his announcement a monk in the 
grey habit of the Penitent friars was seen to pale and to totter, 
as if he were about to fall. Declining the aid of those endeavour 
ing to assist him he staggered through the crowds, covering 
his face with his arms and was soon lost to sight. 

197 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

The thunderous applause at the welcome tidings was followed 
by sighs of relief, as the people retired to their houses and 
hovels. The place, where a few minutes before a nation seemed 
collected, was again deserted, save for a few groups, composed 
of such whom curiosity might detain or others who, residing hi 
the immediate neighbourhood, were less eager to depart. Even 
these imperceptibly diminished, and when the hour of eight was 
repeated from cloisters and convents, the lights in the houses 
gradually disappeared, save hi one window of the Vatican, 
whence a lamp still shed its fitful light through the nocturnal 
gloom. 



198 




Book the Second 

he Sorceress 



199 



" As I came through the desert, thus it was 
As I came through the desert : I was twain ; 
Two selves distinct, that cannot join again. 
One stood apart and knew but could not stir, 
And watched the other stark in swoon arid her; 
And she came on and never turned aside, 
Between such sun and moon and roaring tide: 
And as she came more near, 
My soul grew mad with fear." 

James Thomson. 



200 



CHAPTER I 




THE MEETING 

OT many days after, in the still 
noontide of mellow autumn, a 
small band of horsemen drew 
towards Rome . They rode along 
the Via Appia, between the 
ancient tombs; all about them, 
undulant to the far horizon, 
stretched a brown wilderness 
dotted with ruins. Ruins of 
villas, of farms, of temples, 
with here and there a church or a monastery, that told of the 
newer time. Olives in scant patches, a lost vineyard, a speck 
of tilled soil, proved that men still laboured amid this vast and 
awful silence, but rarely did a human figure meet the eye. 
Marshy ground and stagnant pools lay on either hand, causing 
them to glance sadly at those great aqueducts, which had in 
bygone ages carried water from the hills into Rome. 

They rode in silence, tired with their journey, occupied with 
heavy or anxious thoughts. Otto, King of the Germans, 
impatient to arrive, was generally a little ahead of the rest of 
the company. The pallor of his smooth and classic face was 
enhanced by the coarse military cloak, dark and travel-stained, 
which covered his imperial vestments. A lingering expression 
of sadness was revealed in his eyes, and his lips were tightly 
compressed hi wordless grief, for the tidings of the untimely 
death of the Pontiff, the friend of his youth and his boyhood 
days, had reached him just after his departure from the shrines 

201 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

of St. Michael in Apulia. Dark hints had been contained in the 
message, which Sylvester II, Gregory s chosen successor and 
Otto s former teacher, had despatched to the ruler of the Roman 
world, urging his immediate return, for the temper of the 
Romans brooked no trifling, their leaders being ever on the 
alert for mischief. 

Earthworks and buildings of military purpose presently 
appeared, recalling the late blockade; churches and oratories 
told them they were passing the sacred ground of the Cata 
combs, then they trotted along a hollow way and saw before 
them the Appian gate. Only two soldiers were on guard; 
these, not recognizing the German king, took a careless view 
of the travellers, then let them pass without speaking. 

At the base of the Aventine the cavalcade somewhat slack 
ened its pace. Slowly they ascended the winding road, until 
they reached the old wall of Servius Tullius. Here Otto reined 
in his charger, pausing, for a moment, to observe the view. 
To the west and south-west stretched the brown expanse of the 
Campagna, merging into the distant gray of the Roman 
Maremma, while beyond that point a clear blue line marked 
the Ionian Sea. Beneath them the Tiber wound its coils 
round St. Bartholomew s Island, the yellow water of the river, 
stirred into faint ripples by the breeze, looking from the distance 
like hammered brass. Beyond the Tiber rose the Janiculan 
Mount, behind which the top of the Vatican hill was just 
visible. To southward the view was bounded by the Church of 
Santa Prisca above them and far off rose the snow-capped 
cone of Soracte. Northeast and east lay the Palatine and 
Esquiline with the Campaniles of Santa Maria Maggiore and 
San Pietro in Vincoli. Over the Caelian Mount they could see 
the heights of the Sabine hills, and running their eyes along the 
Appian way, they could almost descry the Alban lake. At a 
sign from their sovereign the cavalcade slowly set in motion. 
Passing the monastery of St. Jerome and its dependencies, the 

202 



THE MEETING 

three churches of the Aventine, Santa Sabina, Santa Maria 
Aventina and St. Alexius, the imperial cavalcade at last drew 
rein before the gates of Otto s Golden Palace on the Aventine. 

Again in his beloved Rome, Otto s first visit was to Bruno s 
grave. He had dismissed his attendants, wishing to be alone 
in his hour of grief. Long he knelt in tears and silent prayers 
before the spot, which seemed to contain half his young life, 
then he directed his steps towards the Basilica of St. Peter, 
there to conclude his devotions. 

It was now the hour of Vespers. 

The area of St. Peters was filled with a vast and silent crowd, 
flowing in and out of the Confessor s station, which was in the 
subterranean chapel, that contains the Apostle s tomb, the 
very load-stone of devotion throughout the Christian word. 

After having finished his devotions, Otto was seized with the 
desire to seek the confessor, in order to obtain relief from the 
strange oppression which hovered over him like a presenti 
ment of evil. Taking his station in line with a number of 
penitents, in the dusky passage leading to the confessional, the 
scene within was now and then revealed to his gaze for the 
short space of a moment, when the bronze gates opened for 
the entrance or exit of some heavily burdened sinner. The 
tomb was stripped of all its costly ornaments, and lighted only 
by the torches of some monks, whose office it was to interpret 
the Penitentiarius, whenever occasion arose. These torches 
shed a mournful glow over the dusk, suiting the place of 
sepulchre of martyred saints. On the tomb itself stood an urn 
of black marble, beneath which was an alabaster tablet, on 
which was engraved the prophecy concerning the Millennium 
and the second coming of Christ, and the conditions of penance 
and prayer, which were to enable the faithful to share in and 
obtain its benefits. Only now and then, when the curtain 
waved aside, the person of the Grand Penitentiarius became 
visible, his hands rigidly clasped, and his usually pale and stern 

203 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

visage overspread with even a darker haze of its habitual 
gloom. 

While Otto was anxiously waiting his turn to be admitted 
to the presence of the Confessor, the gates of the confessional 
suddenly swung open and a woman glided out. She was closely 
veiled and in his mental absorption Otto might scarcely have 
noticed her at all, but for the singular intensity of the gaze, 
with which the monk followed her retreating form. 

As she passed the German King hi the narrow passage, her 
veil became entangled and she paused to adjust it. As she did 
so, her features were for the brief space of a moment revealed 
to Otto, and with such an air of bewilderment did he stare at 
her, that she almost unconsciously raised her eyes to his. For 
a moment both faced each other, motionless, eye in eye 
then the woman quickened her steps and hastened out. After 
she had disappeared, Otto touched his forehead like one 
waking from a trance. Never, even in this city of beautiful 
women, had he seen the like of her, never had his eyes met 
such perfection, such exquisite beauty and loveliness. She 
combined the stately majesty of a Juno with the seductive 
charms of Aphrodite. In dark ringlets the silken hair caressed 
the oval of her exquisite face, a face of the soft tint of Parian 
marble, and the dark lustrous eyes gave life to the classic 
features of this Goddess of Mediaeval Rome. Before she 
vanished from sight, the woman, seemingly obeying an impulse 
not her own, turned her head in the direction of Otto. This 
was due perhaps to the strange discrepancy between his face 
and his attire, or to the presence of one so young and of appear 
ance so distinguished among the throngs which habitually 
crowded the confessional. 

How long he stood thus entranced, Otto knew not, nor did 
he heed the curious gaze of those who passed him on entering 
and leaving the confessional. At last he roused himself, and, 
oblivious of his station and rank, flew down the dark, 

204 



THE MEETING 

vaulted passage at such a speed as almost to knock down 
those who encountered him in his headlong pursuit of the fair 
confessionist. It was more than a matter of idle curiosity to him 
to discover, if possible, her station and name, and after having 
attracted to himself much unwelcome attention by his rash 
and precipitate act, he gradually fell into a slower pace. He 
reached the end of the dark passage hi time to see what he 
believed to be her retreating form vanish down a corridor 
and disappear in one of the numerous side-chapels. Con 
cluding that she had entered to perform some special devotion, 
he resolved to await her return. 

Considerable time elapsed. At last, growing impatient, 
Otto entered the chapel. He found it draped throughout with 
black, an altar hi the center, dimly illumined. Some monks 
were chanting a Requiem, and before the altar there knelt a 
veiled woman, apparently under the spell of some deep emotion, 
for Otto heard her sob when she attempted to articulate the 
responses to the solemn and pathetic litany, which the Catholic 
church consecrates to her dead. 

But the German King s observation suffered an immediate 
check. 

A verger came forward on those soundless shoes, which all 
vergers seem to have, and little guessing the person or quality 
of the intruder informed him of the woman s desire, that none 
should be admitted during the celebration of the mass. Otto 
stared his informant in the face, as if he were at a loss to com 
prehend his meaning, and the latter repeated his request 
somewhat more slowly, under the impression that the 
stranger s seeming lack of understanding was due to his un- 
familiarity with the speaker s barbarous jargon. 

Otto slowly retreated and deferring his intended visit to the 
chapel of the Confessor to an hour more opportune, left the 
Basilica. As he recalled to himself, trace after trace, line upon 
line, that exquisite face, whose creamy pallor was enhanced 

205 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

by the dark silken wealth of her hair, and from whose perfect 
oval two eyes had looked into his own, which had caused his 
heart-beats to stop and his brain to whirl, he could hardly 
await the moment when he should learn her name, and per 
haps be favoured with the assurance that her visit on that 
evening was not likely to have been her last to the Confessor s 
shrine. 

Imbued with this hope, he slowly traversed the streets of 
Rome, experiencing a restful, even animating contentment in 
breathing once more the atmosphere of the thronging city, 
of being once more in a great center of humanity. At a familiar 
corner sat an old man with an iron tripod, over which, by a 
slow fire, he roasted his chestnuts, a sight well remembered, 
for often had he passed him. He threw him some corns and 
continued upon his way. Beyond, at his shop-door stood a 
baker, deep in altercation with his patrons. From an alley 
came a wine-vender with his heavy terra-cotta jars. Before 
an osteria a group of pifferari piped their pastoral strains. A 
few women of the sturdy, low-browed Contadini-type ha 
stened, basket-laden, homeward. A patrol of men-at-arms 
marched down the Navona, while up a narrow tortuous lane 
flitted a company of white-robed monks, bearing to some 
death-bed the last consolation of the church. 

Otto had partaken of no food since morning and nature 
began to assert her rights. Finding himself at the doorway of 
an inn for wayfarers, with a pretentious coat-of-arms over 
the entrance, he entered unceremoniously, and seated himself 
apart from the rather questionable company which patronized 
the Inn of the Mermaid. Here the landlord, a burly Calabrian, 
served his unknown guest with a most questionable beverage, 
faintly suggestive of the product of the vintage, and viands so 
strongly seasoned that they might have undertaken a pil 
grimage on their own account. 

For these commodities, making due allowance for his guest s 

206 



THE MEETING 

abstracted state of mind, the uncertainty of the times and the 
crowded state of the city, the host of the Mermaid only de 
manded a sum equal to five times the customary charge, which 
Otto paid without remonstrance, whereupon the worthy host 
of the Mermaid called to witness all the saints of the calendar, 
that he deserved to spend the remainder of his life in a pig-sty, 
for having been so moderate in his reckoning. 

As one walking in a dream, Otto returned to his palace on 
the Aventine. Had he wavered in the morning, had the dic 
tates of reason still ventured to assert themselves the past 
hour had silenced them for ever. Before his gaze floated the 
image of her who had passed him in the Basilica. At the 
thought of her he could hear the beating of his own heart. 
Rome the dominion of the earth with that one to share 
it delirium of ecstasy ! Would it ever be realized ! Then 
indeed the dream of an earthly paradise would be no mere 
fable! 



207 



CHAPTER II 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 




WEEK had passed since Otto s 
arrival in Rome. Eckhardt, 
wrapped in his own dark fancies, 
had only appeared at the palace 
on the Aventine when com 
pelled to do so in the course of 
his newly resumed duties. The 
terrible presentiment which had 
haunted him night and day 
since he left the gray, bleak 
winter skies of his native land, had become intensified during 
the past days. Day and night he brooded over the terrible 
fascination of those eyes which had laid their spell upon him, 
over the amazing resemblance of the apparition to the one 
long dead in her grave. And the more he pondered the heavier 
grew his heart within him, and vainly he groped for a ray of 
light upon his dark and lonely path, vainly for a guiding hand 
to conduct him from the labyrinth of doubt and fear. 

It had been a warm and sultry day. Towards evening 
dark clouds had risen over the Tyrrhene Sea and spread in long 
heavy banks across the azure of the sky. Sudden squalls of 
rain swept down at short intervals, driving the people into 
shelter. All the life of the streets took refuge in arcades or 
within dimly lighted churches. Soon the slippery marble 
pavements were deserted, and the water from the guttered 
roofs dripped dolefully into overflowing cisterns. A strange 
atmosphere of discomfort and apprehension lay over the city. 

208 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

The storm increased as evening fell. From the seclusion of 
the gloomy chamber he occupied in the old weather-beaten 
palace of the Pierleoni, Eckhardt looked out into the growing 
darkness. The clouds chased each other wildly and the driving 
rain obliterated every outline. 

How long he had thus stood, he did not know. A rattle 
of hailstones against the window, a gust of wind, which 
suddenly blew into his face, and the lurid glare of lightning 
which flashed through the ever-deepening cloud-bank, roused 
Eckhardt from his reverie to a sense of reality. The lamp on 
the table shed a fitful glare over the surrounding objects. 
Now the deep boom of thunder reverberating through the hills 
caused him to start from his listless attitude. Just as he 
turned, the lamp gave a dismal crackle and went out, leaving 
him in Stygian gloom. With an exclamation less reverent 
than expressive, Eckhardt groped his way through the dark 
ness, vainly endeavouring to find a flint-stone. A flash of 
lightning which came to his aid not only revealed to him the 
desired object, but likewise a tall, shadowy form standing on 
the threshold. From the dense obscurity which enshrouded 
him, Eckhardt could not, in the intermittent flashes of light 
ning, see the stranger s features, but a singular, and even to 
himself quite inexplicable perversity of humour, kept him 
silent and unwilling to declare his presence, although he in 
stinctively felt that the strange visitor, whoever he was, had 
seen him. Meanwhile the latter advanced a pace or two, 
paused, peered through the gloom and spoke with a voice 
strangely blended with deference and irony: 

" Is Eckhardt of Meissen present ? " 

Without once taking his eyes from the individual, whose 
dark form now stood clearly revealed in the lightning flashes, 
which followed each other at shorter intervals, the same 
strange obstinacy stiffened Eckhardt s tongue, and concealed 
in the gloom, he still held his peace. But the stranger drew 

209 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

nearer, till in height and breadth he seemed suddenly to over 
shadow the Margrave, and once again the voice spoke: 

" Is Eckhardt of Meissen present ? " 

" I am here ! " the latter replied curtly, rising out of the 
darkness, and striking the flint-stones, he succeeded, after 
some vain efforts, in relighting the lamp. As he did so, a tre 
mendous peal of thunder shook the house and the stranger 
precipitately retreated into the shadow of the doorway. 

" You are the bearer of a message ? " Eckhardt turned 
towards him, with unsteady voice. The stranger made no 
move to deliver what the other seemed to expect. 

" Everything hi death has its counterpart in life," he replied 
with a calm, passionless voice which, by its very absence of 
inflection, thrilled Eckhardt strangely. " If you have the 
courage follow me ! " 

Without a word the Margrave placed upon his head a skull 
cap of linked mail, and after having adjusted his armour, 
turned to the mysterious messenger. 

" Who bade you speak those words ? " 

" One you have seen before." 

" Where ? " 

" Your memory will tell you." 

" Her name ? " 

" You will hear it from her own lips." 

" Where will you lead me ? " 

" Follow me and you will see." 

" Why do you conceal your face ? " 

" To hide the blush for the thing called man." 

The stranger s enigmatic reply added to Eckhardt s convic 
tion that this night of all was destined to clear the mystery 
which enshrouded his life. 

A mighty struggle, such as he had never before known, 
seemed to rend his soul, as with throbbing heart he followed 
his strange guide on his mysterious errand. Thus they sped 

210 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

through the storm-swept city without meeting one single 
human being. At the top of the Esquiline they came to a 
momentary standstill, for the storm raged with a force that 
nothing could resist. Leaning for a moment against a ruined 
portico, Eckhardt gazed westward over the night-wrapt city. 
In the driving rain he could scarcely distinguish the huge 
structures of the Flavian Amphitheatre and the palaces on the 
Capitoline hill. The Janiculan Mount stood out like a darker 
storm-cloud against the lowering sky, and the air was filled 
with a dull moan and murmur like the breathing of a sleeping 
giant. On the southern slope of the hill the wind attacked 
them with renewed fury, and the blasts howled up the Clivus 
Martis and the Appian Way. The region seemed completely 
deserted. Only a solitary travelling chariot rolled now and 
then, clattering, over the stones. 

The road gradually turned off to the right. The dark mass 
to their left was the tomb of the Scipios and there hi front, 
hardly visible in the darkness of night, rose the arch of Drusus, 
through which their way led them. Eckhardt took care to 
note every landmark which he passed, to find the way, should 
occasion arise, without his guide. The latter, constantly pre 
ceding him, took no note of the Margrave s scrutiny, but con 
tinued unequivocally upon his way, leaving it to Eckhardt to 
follow him, or not. 

A blinding flash of lightning illumined the landscape far 
away to the aqueducts and the Alban hills, followed by a deafen 
ing peal of thunder. The uproar of the elements for a time 
shook Eckhardt s resolution. 

Just then he heard the clanging of a gate. 

An intoxicating perfume of roses and oleander wooed his 
bewildered senses as his guide conducted him through a laby 
rinthine maze of winding paths. Only an occasional gleam of 
lightning revealed to the Margrave that they traversed a garden 
of considerable extent. Now the shadowy outlines of a vast 

211 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

structure, illumined in some parts, appeared beyond the dark 
cypress avenue down which they strode at a rapid pace. 

Suddenly Eckhardt paused, addressing his guide : " Where 
am I, and why am I here ? " 

The stranger turned, regarding him intently. Then he 
replied : 

" I have nothing to add to my errand. If you fear to follow 
me, there is yet time to retreat." 

Had he played upon a point less sensitive, Eckhardt might 
have turned his back even now upon the groves, whose whisper 
ing gloom was to him more terrible than the din of battle, and 
whose mysterious perfumes exercised an almost bewildering 
effect upon his overwrought senses. 

A moment s deliberation only and Eckhardt replied: 

"Lead on! I follow! " 

He was now resolved to penetrate at every hazard the 
mystery which mocked his life, his waking hours and his 
dreams. 

On they walked. 

Here and there, from branch-shadowed thickets gleamed 
the stone-face of a sphinx or the white column of an obelisk, 
illumined by the lightnings that shot through the limitless 
depth of the midnight sky. The storm rustled among the 
arched branches, driving the dead and dying leaves in a mad 
whirl through the wooded labyrinth. 

At last, Eckhardt s strange guide stopped before a cypress 
hedge of great height, which loomed black in the night, and 
penetrating through an opening scarce wide enough for one 
man, beckoned to Eckhardt to follow him. As the latter did 
so he stared in breathless bewilderment upon the scene which 
unfolded itself to his gaze. 

The cypress hedge formed the entrance to a grotto, the 
interior of which was faintly lighted by a crystal lamp of 
tenderest rose lustre. 

212 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

For a moment Eckhardt paused where he stood, then he 
touched his head with both hands, as if wondering if he were 
dreaming or awake. If it was not the work of sorcery, if he 
was not the victim of some strange hallucination, if it was 
not indeed a miracle what was it ? He gazed round, awe 
struck, bewildered. His guide had disappeared. 

The denizen of the grotto, a woman reclining on a divan, 
like a goddess receiving the homage of her worshippers, was 
the image of the one who had gone from him for ever, and the 
longer his gaze was riveted on this enchanting counterfeit of 
Ginevra, the more his blood began to seethe and his senses to 
reel. 

Slowly he moved toward the enchantress, who from her 
half -reclining position fixed her eyes in a long and questioning 
gaze upon the new-comer, a gaze which thrilled him through 
and through. He dared not look into those eyes, which he felt 
burning into his. His head was beginning to spin and his 
heart to beat with a strange sensation of wonderment and fear. 
Never till this hour had he seen Ginevra s equal in beauty, 
and now that it broke on his vision, it was with the face, the 
form, the hair, the eyes, the hands, of the woman so passionately 
loved. Only the face was more pale even with the pallor 
of death, and there was something in the depths of those eyes 
which he had never seen in Ginevra s. But the light, the per 
fume, the place and the seductive beauty of the woman before 
him, garbed as she was in a filmy, transparent robe of silvery 
tissue, which clung like a pale mist about the voluptuous 
curves of her body, flowing round her like the glistening waves 
of a cascade, began to play havoc with his senses. 

" Welcome, stranger, in the Groves of Enchantment," she 
spoke, waving her beautiful snowy arms toward her visitor. 
" I rejoice to see that your courage deserves the welcome." 

There was an undercurrent of laughter in her musical tones, 
as she pointed to a seat by her side. Unable to answer, unable 

213 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

to resist, Eckhardt moved a few paces nearer. His brain whirled. 
For a moment Ginevra s image seemed forgotten in the con 
templation of the rival of her dead beauty. A wild, desperate 
longing seized him. On a sudden impulse he turned away, 
in a dizzy effort to escape from the mesmeric gleam of 
those sombre, haunting eyes, which pierced the very depths of 
his soul. Fascinated, at the same time repelled, his very soul 
yearned for her whose embrace he knew was destruction and 
he was filled with a strange sudden fear. There was something 
terrible in the steadfast contemplation which the woman 
bestowed upon him, something that seemed to lie outside 
the pale of human passions, and the pallor of her exquisite 
face seemed to increase in proportion as the devouring fire of 
her eyes burnt more intensely. 

" Are you afraid of me ? " she laughed, raising her arms 
and holding them out toward him. 

Still he hesitated. His breast heaved madly as his eyes met 
those, which swam in a soft languor, strangely intoxicating. 
Her lips parted in a faint sigh. 

" Eckhardt," she said tremulously, " Eckhardt." 

Then she paused as if to watch the effect of her words upon 
him. 

Mute, oppressed by indistinct hovering memories, Eckhardt 
fed his gaze on her seductive fairness, but a terrible pain and 
anguish gnawed at his heart. Not only the face, even the voice 
was that of Ginevra. 

" Everything in death has its counterpart in life : " 

That had been the pass-word to her presence. 

One devouring look and forgetting all fear and warning 
and all presence of mind he rushed towards that flashing 
danger-signal of beauty, that seemed to burn the very air 
encompassing it, that living image of his dead wife, and with 
wild eyes, outstretched arms and breathless utterance, he 
cried: "Ginevra!" 

214 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

She whom he thus called turned toward him, as he came 
with the air of a madman upon her, and her marvellous 
loveliness, as she raised her dark eyes questioningly to his, 
checked his impetuous haste, held him tongue-tied, bewildered 
and unmanned. 

And truly, nothing more beautiful in the shape of woman 
could be imagined than she. Her fairness was of that rare and 
subtle type which has in all ages overwhelmed reason, blinded 
judgment and played havoc with the passions of men. 

Well did she know her own surpassing charm and thoroughly 
did she estimate the value of her fatal power to lure and to 
madden and to torture all whom she chose to make the victim 
of her almost resistless attraction. Her hair, black as night, 
was arranged loosely under a jewelled coif. Her eyes, large 
and brilliant, shone from under brows delicately arched. Her 
satin skin was of the creamy, colourless, Southern type, in 
startling contrast to the brilliant scarlet of the small bewitching 
mouth. 

Beautiful and delicate as the ensemble was, there was in 
that enchanting face a lingering expression, which a woman 
would have hated and a man would have feared. 

" Ginevra! " Eckhardt cried, then he checked himself, for, 
her large eyes, suddenly cold as the inner silence of the sea, 
surveyed him freezingly, as though he were some insolently 
obstrusive stranger. But her face was pale as that of a corpse. 

" Ginevra ! " he faltered for the third time, his senses reeling 
and he no longer master of himself. " Surely you know me 
Eckhardt, him whose name you have just called ! Speak 
to me, Ginevra speak ! By all the love I have borne for 
you speak, Ginevra, speak ! " 

A shadow flitted through the background and paused be 
hind Theodora s couch. Neither had seen it, though Theodora 
shuddered as if she had felt the strange presence of something 
uncalled, unbidden. 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

A strange light of mockery, or of annoyance, gleamed in the 
woman s eyes. Her crimson lips parted, showing two rows of 
even, small white teeth, then a gleam of amusement shot 
athwart her face, raising the delicately pencilled corners of the 
eye-brows, as she broke into a soft peal of careless mocking 
laughter. 

" I am not Ginevra," she said. " Who is Ginevra ? I am 
Theodora the Queen of Love." 

Again, as she saw his puzzled look, she gave way to her 
silvery, mocking mirth, while her eyes flung him a glittering 
challenge to approach. Eckhardt had recovered partial con 
trol over his feelings and met her taunting gaze steadfastly 
and with something of sadness. His face had grown very 
pale and all the warmth and rapture had died out of his voice, 
when he spoke again. 

" I am Eckhardt," he said quietly, with the calm of a mad 
man who argues for a fixed idea, " and you are Ginevra 
or her ghost I know not which. Why did you return to the 
world from your cold and narrow bed in the earth and shun the 
man who worships you as one worships an idol ? Is it for 
some transgression in the flesh that your soul cannot find 
rest ? " 

An ominous shuffling behind her caused Theodora to start. 
She turned her head as if by chance and when again she 
faced Eckhardt, she was as pale as death. Noting her momen 
tary embarrassment, Eckhardt made a resolute step toward 
her, catching her hands in his own. He was dazed. 

" Is this your welcome back in the world, Ginevra ? " he 
pleaded with a passionate whisper. " Have you no thought 
what this long misery apart from you has meant ? Remember 
the old days, the old love, have pity speak to me as 
of old." 

His voice in its very whisper thrilled with the strange music 
that love alone can give. His eyes burnt and his lips quivered. 

216 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

Suddenly he seemed to wake to a realization of the scene. 
He had been mocked by a fatal resemblance to his dead 
wife. His heart was heavy with the certainty, but the spell 
remained. 

Without warning he threw himself on his knees, holding 
her unresisting hands in his. 

" Demon or Goddess," he faltered, and his voice, even to 
his own ears, had a strange sound. " What would you have 
with me ? Speak, for what purpose did you summon me ? 
Who are you ? What do you want with me ? 

Her low laugh stirred the silence into a faint tuneful echo. 

" Foolish dreamer," she murmured half tenderly, half 
mockingly. " Is it not enough for you to know that you have 
been found worthy to join the few chosen ones to whom 
this earthly paradise is not a book with seven seals ? Like 
your sad-eyed, melancholy countrymen, you would analyze 
the essence of love and try to dissolve it into its own hetero 
geneous particles. If you were given the choice of the fairest 
woman you would descend into the mouldering crypts of the 
past, to unearth the first and last Helen of Troy. Ah! Is it 
not so ? You Northmen prefer a theoretical attachment to 
the body of living, breathing, loving woman ? " 

He looked at her surprised, perplexed, and paused an in 
stant before he made reply. Was she mocking him ? Did she 
speak truth ? 

" Surely so peerless an enchantress, with admirers so 
numerous, cannot find it worth her while to add a new wor 
shipper to the idolatrous throng ? " he answered. 

" Ah ! Little you know," she murmured indolently, with a 
touch of cold disdain in her accents. " My worshippers are my 
puppets, my slaves! There is not a man amongst them," she 
added, raising her voice, "not a man! They kiss the hand 
that spurns their touch! As for you," she added, leaning 
forward, so that the dark shower of her hair brushed his 

217 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

cheek and her drowsy eyes sank into his own, " As for you 
you are from the North. I love a nature of strongly repressed 
and concentrated passion, of a proud and chilly temper. 
Like our volcanoes they wear crowns of ice, but fires un 
quenchable smother in their depths. And might not at 
a touch from the destined hand the flame in your heart leap 
forth uncontrolled ? " 

Eckhardt met the enchantress look with one of mingled 
dread and intoxication. She smiled, and raising a goblet of 
wine to her lips, kissed the brim and gave it to him with an 
indescribably graceful swaying gesture of her whole form, 
which resembled a tall white lily bending to the breeze. He 
seized the cup eagerly and drank thirstily from it. Again her 
magic voice, more melodious than the sounds of -5olian harps 
thrilled his ears and set his pulses to beating madly. 

" But you have not yet told me," she whispered, while her 
head drooped lower and lower, till her dark fragrant tresses 
touched his brow, " you have not yet told me that you love 
me?" 

Was it the purple wine that was so heavy on his senses ? 
Heavier was the drowsy spell of the enchantress eyes. Eck 
hardt started up. His heart ached with the memory of Ginevra, 
and a dull pang shot through his soul. But the spell that was 
upon him was too heavy to be broken by human effort. Noth 
ing short of the thunder of Heaven could save him now. 

Theodora s words chimed in his ear, while her hands clasped 
his own with their soft, electrifying touch. With a supreme 
effort he endeavoured to shake off the spell, into whose ravish 
ment he was being slowly but surely drawn, his efforts at 
resistance growing more feeble and feeble every moment. 

Again the voice of the Siren sent its musical cadence through 
his brain in the fateful question: 

" Do you love me ? " 

Eckhardt attempted to draw back, but could not. 

218 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

Entwining her body with his arms, he devoured her beauty 
with his eyes. From the crowning masses of her dusky hair, 
over the curve of her white shoulders and bosom, down to the 
blue-veined feet in the glistening sandals, his gaze wandered 
hungrily, searchingly, passionately. His heart beat with wild, 
mad desire, but, though his lips moved, no words were audible. 

She too, was silent, apparently watching the effect of her 
spell upon him, sure of the ultimate fateful result. In reality 
she listened intently, as if expecting some unwelcome intrusion, 
and once her dark fear-struck eyes tried to penetrate the deep 
shadows of the grotto. She had hsard something stir, 
and a mad fear had seized her heart. 

Eckhardt, unconscious of the woman s misgivings, gazed 
upon her as one dazed. He felt, if he could but speak the one 
word, he would be saved and yet something warned 
him that, if that word escaped his lips, he would be lost. Half 
recumbent on her couch, Theodora watched her victim nar 
rowly. A smile of delicate derision parted her lips, as she 
said: 

" What ails you ? Are you afraid of me ? Can you not be 
happy, Eckhardt," she whispered into his brain, " happy as 
other men, and loved ? " 

She bent toward him with arms outstretched. Closely she 
watched his every gesture, endeavouring, in her great fear, to 
read his thoughts. 

" I cannot," he replied with a moan, " alas I cannot ! " 

" And why not ? " the enchantress whispered, bending 
closer toward him. She must make him her own, she must 
win the terrible wager; from out of the gloom she felt two 
eyes burning upon her with devilish glee. She preferred 
instant death to a life by the side of him she hated with all 
the strength of a woman s hate for the man who has lied to 
her, deceived her, and ruined her life. Noting the fateful effect 
of her blandishments upon him, she threw herself with a sudden 

219 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

movement against Eckhardt s breast, entwining him so 
tightly with her arms that she seemed to draw the very breath 
from him. Her splendid dark eyes, ablaze with passion, 
sank into his, her lips curved in a sweet, deadly smile. Roused 
to the very height of delirium, Eckhardt wound his arms 
round Theodora s body. A dizziness had seized him. For a 
moment Ginevra past, present and future seemed forgotten. 
Closer and closer he felt himself drawn towards the fateful 
abyss slowly the enchantress was drawing him onward, 
until there would be no more resistance, all flaming delirium, 
and eternal damnation. 

With one white arm she reached for the goblet, but ere her 
fingers touched it, a shadowy hand, that seemed to come from 
nowhere and belong to no visible body, changed the position 
of the drinking vessels. Neither noted it. Theodora kissed the 
brim of the first goblet and started to sip from its contents 
when a sudden pressure on her shoulder caused her to look up. 
Her terror at what she saw was so great that it choked her 
utterance. Two terrible eyes gazed upon her from a white, 
passion-distorted face, which silently warned her not to drink. 
So great was her terror, that she noticed not that Eckhardt 
had taken the goblet from her outstretched hand, and putting 
it to his lips on the very place where the sweetness of her 
mouth still lingered, drained it to the dregs. 

Wild-eyed with terror she stared at the man before her. 
A strange sensation had come over him. His brain seemed to 
be on fire. His resistance was vanquished. He could not have 
gone, had he wished to. 

The night was still. The silence was rendered even more 
profound by the rustling of the storm among the leaves. 

Suddenly Eckhardt s hand went to his head. He started 
to rise from his kneeling position, staggered to his feet, then as 
if struck by lightning he fell heavily against the mosaic of the 
floor. 

220 



THE QUEEN OF NIGHT 

With a wild shriek of terror, Theodora had risen to her 
feet then she sank back on the couch staring speechlessly 
at what was passing before her. The gaunt form of a monk, 
clad in the habit of the hermits of Mount Aventine,had rushed 
into the grotto, just as Eckhardt fell from the effect of the drug. 
Lifting him up, as if he were a mere toy, the monk rushed out 
into the open and disappeared with his burden, while four 
eyes followed him in speechless dread and dismay. 



221 



CHAPTER III 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 




T was late on the following 
evening, when in the hermitage 
of Nilus of Gae ta, Eckhardt 
woke from the death-like stupor 
which had bound his limbs since 
the terrible scenes of the previ 
ous night. Thanks to the anti 
dotes applied by the friar as soon 
as he reached the open, the 
deadly effect of the poison had 
been stemmed ere it had time to penetrate Eckhardt s system, 
but even despite this timely precaution, the benumbing effect 
of the drug was not to be avoided, and during the time when 
the stupor maintained its sway Nilus had not for a moment 
abandoned the side of his patient. A burning thirst consumed 
him, as he awoke. Raising himself on his elbows and vainly 
endeavouring to reconcile his surroundings, the monk who was 
seated at the foot of his roughly improvised bed rose and 
brought him some water. It was Nilus himself, and only after 
convincing himself that the state of the Margrave s condition 
was such as to warrant his immediately satisfying the flood of 
inquiries addressed to him, did the hermit go over the events 
of the preceding night, starting from the point where Eckhardt 
had lost consciousness and his own intervention had saved 
him. 

Eckhardt s hand went to his head which still felt heavy and 
ached. His brain reeled at the account which Nilus gave him, 

222 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 

and there was a choking dryness in his throat when the friar 
accused Theodora of the deed. 

" For such as she the world was made. For such as she 
fools and slaves abase themselves," the monk concluded his 
account. " Pray that your eyes may never again behold her 
accursed face." 

Eckhardt made no reply. What could he say in extenuation 
of his presence in the groves ? And by degrees, as conscious 
ness and memory returned, as he strained his reasoning 
faculties in the endeavour to find some cause for the woman s 
attempt to poison him, after having mocked him with her fatal 
likeness to Ginevra his most acute logic could not reconcile 
her actions. For a moment he tried to persuade himself that 
he was in a dream, and he strove hi vain to wake from it. 
It was amazing in what brief time and with what vividness all 
that could render death terrible, and this death of all most 
terrible, rushed upon his imagination. Despite the languor and 
inertness which still continued, one terrible certainty rose 
before him. Far from having solved the mystery, it had in 
tensified itself to a degree that seemed to make any further 
attempt at solution hopeless. During the twilight conscious 
ness of his senses numerous faces swam around him, but 
of all these only one had remained with him, Ginevra s pale 
and beautiful countenance, her sweet but terrible eyes. But 
the ever-recurring thought was madness. Ginevra was 
dead. 

But the hours spent in the seclusion of the friar s hermitage 
were not entirely lost to Eckhardt. They ripened a pre 
conceived and most fantastic plan in his mind, which he 
no sooner remembered, than he began to think seriously of 
its execution. 

A second night spent in Nilus s hermitage had sufficiently 
restored Eckhardt s vitality to enable him to leave it on the 
following morning. After having taken leave of the monk, 

223 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

confessing himself his debtor for life, the Margrave chose the 
road toward the Imperial palace, as his absence was likely to 
give rise to strange rumours, which might retard or prevent the 
task he had resolved to accomplish. He was hi a state border 
ing on nervous collapse, when he reached the gates of the 
palace, where the Count Palatine, hi attendance, ushered 
him into an ante-room pending his admission to Otto s 
presence. Eckhardt s thoughts were gloomy and his coun 
tenance forbidding as he entered, and he did not notice the 
presence of Benilo, the Chamberlain. When the latter glanced 
up from his occupation, his countenance turned to ashen hues 
and he stared at the leader of the imperial hosts as one would at 
an apparition from the beyond. The hands, which held a 
parchment, strangely illuminated, shook so violently that he 
was compelled to place the scroll on the table before him. 
Eckhardt had been so wrapt in his own dark ruminations that 
he saw and heard nothing, thus giving Benilo an opportunity 
to collect himself, though the stereotyped smile on the Cham 
berlain s lips gave the lie to his pretense of continuing interested 
in the contents of the chart which lay on the table before 
him. 

But Benilo s restlessness, his eagerness to acquaint himself 
with the purpose of Eckhardt s visit, did not permit him to 
continue the task in which the general s entrance had found him 
engaged. The Chamberlain seemed undaunted by Eckhardt s 
apparent preoccupation of mind. 

" We have just achieved a signal victory," he addressed the 
Margrave after a warm greeting, which was to veil his mis 
givings, while his unsteady gaze roamed from the parchment 
on the table to Eckhardt s clouded brow. " The Byzantine 
ceremonial will be henceforth observed at the Imperial 
court." 

" What shall it all lead to ? " replied Eckhardt wearily. 

" To the fulfilment of the emperor s dream," Benilo replied 

224 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 

with his blandest smile, " his dream of the ten-fold crown of 
Constantino Porphyrogenitus." 

" I thought the Saxon crown weighed heavily enough." 

" That is because your crown is material," Benilo deigned 
to expound, " not the symbolic crown of the East, which em 
bodies all the virtues of the gold and iron. It was a stupendous 
task which confronted us but together we have solved the 
problem. In the Graphia, after much vain research and 
study, and in the Origines of Isidor, we found that which 
shall henceforth constitute the emblem of the Holy Roman 
Empire; not the Iron Crown of Lombardy, nor the Silver 
Crown of Aix-la-Chapelle, nor the Golden Crown of Rome 
but all three combined with the seven of the East." 

" Ten crowns ? " exclaimed Eckhardt aghast. " On the 
emperor s frail brow ? " 

" Nay," spoke Benilo, with the same studied smile upon his 
lips, while he relinquished not for a moment the basilisk gaze 
with which he followed every movement of the Margrave. 
"Nay! They oppress not the brow of the anointed. The 
Seven Crowns of the East are : The crown of Ivy, the crown of 
the Olive, the crown of Poplar Branches and Oak, the crown of 
Laurels, the Mitra of Janus, the crown of the Feathers of the 
Pea-fowl, and last of all the crown set with diamonds, which 
Diocletian borrowed from the King of the Persians and 
whereon appeared the inscription : Roma Caput Mundi Regit 
Orbis Frena Rotundi. " 

Eckhardt listened half dazed to this exhibition of antiquarian 
learning on the part of the Chamberlain. What were these 
trifles to avail the King hi establishing order in the dis 
cordant chaos of the Roman world ? 

But Benilo was either in excellent spirits over the result of 
his antiquarian researches which had made him well nigh 
indispensable to Otto, and into which he condescended to 
initiate so unlettered an individual as Eckhardt; or he tor- 

225 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

mented the latter with details which he knew wearied the great 
leader, to keep his mind from dwelling on dangerous matters. 
Thus continuing his information on these lines with a suave 
air of superiority, he cited the treatise of Pigonius concerning 
the various modes of triumph and other antiquated splendours 
as enumerated in the Codex, until Eckhardt s head swam with 
meaningless titles and newly created offices. Even an admiral 
had been appointed : Gregory of Tusculum. In truth, he had 
no fleet to command, because there existed no fleet, but the 
want had been anticipated. Then there were many important 
offices to be filled, with names long as the ancient triumphal 
course; and would not the Romans feel flattered by these 
changes ? Would they not willingly console themselves with 
the loss of their municipal liberties, knowing that Hungary, 
and Poland, Spain and Germany were to be Roman provinces 
as of old ? 

Eckhardt saw through it all. 

Knowing Otto s fantastic turn of mind, Benilo was guiding 
him slowly but surely away from life, into the wilderness of 
a decayed civilization, whose luring magic was absorbing his 
vital strength. Else why this effort to rear an edifice which 
must crumble under its own weight, once the architect was 
removed from this hectic sphere ? 

With the reckless enthusiasm of his character the imperial 
youth had plunged into the deep ocean of learning, to whose 
shores his studies with Benilo conducted him. The animated 
pictures which the ponderous tomes presented, into whose 
dust and must he delved, the dramatic splendour of the narra 
tive in which the glowing fancies of the chroniclers had 
clothed the stirring events of the times, deeply impressed his 
susceptible mind, just as the chords of ^Eolian harps are mute 
till the chance breeze passes which wakes them into passionate 
music. Gerbert, now Sylvester II, had no wish to stifle nor 
even to stem this natural sensibility, but rather to divert its 

226 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 

energies into its proper channels, for he was too deeply versed 
in human science not to know that even the eloquence of 
religion is cold and powerless, unless kindled by those fixed 
emotions and sparkling thoughts which only poetical en 
thusiasm can strike out of the hard flint of logic. 

But now the activity of Otto s genius, lacking the proper 
channels, vented its wild profusion in inert speculation and 
dreamy reverie. Indistinct longings ventured out on that 
shimmering restless sea of love and glory, which his imagina 
tion painted hi the world, a vague yearning for the mysterious 
which was hinted at in that mediaeval lore. 

All things were possible in those legends. No scent of 
autumn haunted the deep verdure of those forests, even the 
harsh immutable laws of nature seemed to yield to their 
magic. Death and Despair and Sorrow were but fore-shadowed 
angels, not the black fiends of Northern imagery. Their heroes 
and heroines died, but reclining on beds of violets, the songs of 
nightingales sweetly warbling them to rest. 

And the son of the Greek princess resented fiercely any 
intrusion into his paradise. It was a thankless task to recall 
him to the hour and to reality. 

The appearance of a page, who summoned Eckhardt into 
Otto s presence, put an end to Benilo s effusive archae 
ology, and as the Margrave disappeared in the emperor s 
cabinet, Benilo wondered how much he knew. 

What transpired during his protracted audience remained 
for the present the secret of those two. But when Eckhardt 
left the palace, his brow was even more clouded than before. 
While his conference with Otto had not been instrumental in 
dissipating the dread misgivings which tortured his mind, he 
had found himself face to face with the revelation that a 
fraud had been perpetrated upon him. For Otto disclaimed all 
knowledge of signing any order which relieved Eckhardt of 
his command, flatly declaring it a forgery. While its purpose 

227 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

was easy to divine, the question remained whose interest 
justified his venturing so desperate a chance ? Eckhardt parted 
from his sovereign with the latter s full approval of the course 
his leader intended to pursue, and so far from granting him the 
dispensation once desired, Otto did not hesitate to pronounce 
the vision which had interposed at the fatal moment between 
Eckhardt and the fulfilment of his desire, a divine interposition. 

Slowly the day drew to a close. The eve of the great festival 
approached. 

When darkness finally fell over the Capitoline hill, the old 
palace of the Caesars seemed to waken to a new life. In the 
great reception hall a gorgeous spectacle awaited the guests. 
The richly dressed crowds buzzed like a swarm of bees. Their 
attires were iridescent, gorgeous in fashions borrowed from 
many lands. The invasion of foreigners and the enslavement 
of Italy could be read in the garbs of the Romans. The robes 
of the women, fashioned after the supreme style of Constanti 
nople, hanging in heavy folds, stiff with gold and jewels, 
suggested rather ecclesiastical vestments. The hair was con 
fined hi nets of gold. 

Stephania, the consort of the Senator of Rome, was by 
common accord the queen of the festival which this night 
was to usher in. Attracting, as she did on every turn, the eyes 
of heedless admirers, her triumphant beauty seemed to have 
chosen a fit device hi the garb which adorned her, some filmy 
gossamer web of India, embroidered with moths burning their 
wings hi flame. 

Whether or no she was conscious of the lavish admiration 
of the Romans, her eyes, lustrous under the dark tresses, were 
clear and cold; her smile calm, her voice, as she greeted the 
arriving guests, melodious and thrilling like the tones of a 
harp. Amid the noise and buzz, she seemed a being apart, 
alien, solitary, like a water lily on some silent moon-lit pool. 
At last a loud fanfare of trumpets and horns announced the 

228 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 

arrival of the German king. Attended by his suite the son of 
Theophano, whose spiritualized beauty he seemed to have 
inherited, received the homage of the Senator of Rome, the 
Cavalli, Caetani, Massimi and Stephaneschi. Stephania was 
standing apart in a more remote part of the hall, surrounded 
by women of the Roman nobility. Her face flushed and paled 
alternately as she became aware of the commotion at the 
entrance. The airy draperies of summer, which revealed rather 
than concealed her divine beauty, gave her the appearance of 
a Circe, conquering every heart at sight. 

As she slowly advanced toward the imperial circle, with the 
three appropriate reverences hi use, the serene composure of 
her countenance made it seem as if she had herself been born 
hi purple. But as Otto s gaze fell upon the consort of the 
Senator of Rome, he suddenly paused, a deep pallor chasing 
the flush of joy from the beardless face. Was she not the 
woman he had met at the gates of the confessional ? A great 
pain seized his heart as the thought came to him, that she of 
whom he had dreamed ever since that day, she in whose love 
he had pictured to himself a heaven, was the consort of another. 
Before him stood Stephania, the wife of his former foe, the wife 
of the Senator of Rome. And as he gazed into her large limpid 
eyes, at the exquisite contour of her head, at the small crimson 
lips, the clear-cut beauty of the face, of the tint of richest 
Carrara marble, Otto trembled. Unable to speak a word, 
fearful lest he might betray his emotions, he seized the white, 
firm hand which she extended to him with a bewitching 
smile. 

" So we are to behold the King s majesty, at last," she 
said with a voice whose very accent thrilled him through and 
through. " I thought you were never going to do us that 
honour, master of Rome, and master of Rome s mis 
tress." 

Her speech, as she bent slightly toward him, whispering 

229 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

rather than speaking the last words, filled Otto s soul with 
intoxication. Stunned by the manner of his reception, her 
mysterious words still ringing in his ears, Otto muttered a 
reply, intelligible to none but herself, nerving his whole nature 
to remain calm, though his heart beat so loudly that he thought 
all present must hear its wild throbs even through his imperial 
vestments. 

As slowly, reluctantly he retreated from her presence, to 
greet the rest of the assembled guests, Otto marked not the 
meaning-fraught exchange of glances between the Senator of 
Rome and his wife. The smiles of the beautiful women around 
him were as full of warning as the scowls of a Roman mob. 
Once or twice Otto gazed as if by chance hi the direction of 
Stephania. Each time their eyes met. Truly, if the hatred of 
Crescentius was a menace to his life, the favour of Stephania 
seemed to summon him to dizzy, perilous heights. 

At last the banquet was served, the company seated and 
amidst soft strains of music, the festival took its course. Otto 
now had an opportunity to study in detail the galaxy of profli 
gate courtiers and beauties, which shed their glare over the 
sunset of Crescentius s reign. But so absorbed was he in the 
beauty of Stephania, that, though he attempted to withdraw his 
eyes, lest their prolonged gaze should attract observation, still 
they ever returned with increased and devouring eagerness 
to feast upon her incomparable beauty, while with a strange 
agony of mingled jealousy and anger he noted the court paid 
to the beautiful wife of Crescentius by the Roman barons, 
chief among them Benilo. It seemed, as if the latter wanted 
to urge the king to some open and indiscreet demonstration 
by the fire of his own admiration, and, dear as he was to his 
heart, Otto heaved a sigh of relief at the thought that he had 
guarded his secret, which if revealed, would place him beyond 
redemption in the power of his enemy, the Senator. 

Stephania herself seemed for the nonce too much absorbed 

230 



THE ELIXIR OF LOVE 

in her own amusements to notice the emotions she had 
evoked in the young king of the Germans. But when she 
chanced to turn her smiling eyes from the Senator, her husband, 
she suddenly met the ardent gaze of Otto riveted upon her with 
burning intensity. The smile died on her lips and for a moment 
the colour faded from her cheeks. Otto flushed a deep crimson 
and played in affected indifference with the tassels of his 
sword, and for some moments they seemed to take no further 
heed of each other. What happened at the banquet, what 
was spoken and the speakers, to Otto it was one whirling 
chaos. He saw nothing; he heard nothing. The gaze of 
Stephania, the wife of Crescentius, had cast its spell over him 
and there was but one thought in his mind, but one dream 
in his heart. 

At the request of some one, some of the guests changed their 
seats. Otto noted it not. Peals of laughter reverberated 
through the high arched Sala; some one recited an ode on 
the past greatness of Rome, followed by loud applause; to 
Otto it was a meaningless sound. Suddenly he heard his own 
name from lips whose tones caused him to start, as if electrified. 

Stephania sat by his side. Crescentius seemed conversing 
eagerly with some of the barons. Raising her arm, white as 
fallen snow, she poured a fine crimson wine into a goblet, 
until it swelled to the golden brim. There was a simultaneous 
bustle of pages and attendants, offering fruits and wine to the 
guests, and Otto mechanically took some grapes from a salver 
which was presented to him, but never for a moment averted 
his gaze from Stephania, until she lifted the goblet to her 
lips. 

" To thee ! " she whispered with a swift glance at Otto, which 
went to his heart s core. She sipped from the goblet, then, 
bending to him, held it herself to his lips. His trembling hands 
for a moment covered her own and he drank strangely deep of 
the crimson wine, which made his senses reel, and in the trance 

231 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

in which their eyes met, neither noticed the sphinx-like ex 
pression on the face of Benilo, the Grand Chamberlain. 

But if the wine, of which Otto had partaken with Stephania, 
was not in reality compounded of magic ingredients, the most 
potent love philtre could scarcely have been more efficacious. 
For the first time it seemed as if he had yielded up his whole 
soul and being to the fascination of marvellous beauty, and with 
such loveliness exhausting upon him all its treasures of infinite 
charm, wit and tenderness, stirred by every motive of triumph 
and rivalry, even if a deceptive apology had not worked hi 
his own mind, it would scarcely have been possible to resist 
the spell. 

The banquet passed off in great splendour, enlivened by the 
most glittering and unscrupulous wit. Thousands of lamps 
shed their effulgence on the scene, revealing toward the end a 
fantastic pageant, descending the grand stair-case to some 
equally strange and fantastic music. It was a procession of 
the ancient deities ; but so great was the illiterate state of mind 
among the Romans of that period, that the ideas they repre 
sented of the olden time were hopelessly perplexed and an 
antiquarian, had there been one present, would have thrown 
up his hands in despair at the incongruous attire of the pagan 
divinities who had invaded the most Christian city. During 
this procession Otto s eyes for the third time sought those of 
Stephania. She seemed to feel it, for she turned and her lips 
responded with a smile. 

The night passed like some fantastic dream, conjured up 
from fairy land. And Otto carried his dreaming heart back to 
the lonely palace on the Aventine. 



232 



CHAPTER IV 




THE SECRET OF THE TOMB 

HILE the revelling on the 
Capitoline hill was at its height, 
Eckhardt had approached Benilo 
and drawing him aside, engaged 
him in lengthy conversation. 
The Chamberlain s countenance 
had lost its studied calm and 
betrayed an amazement which 
vainly endeavoured to vent it 
self in adequate utterance. He 
appeared to offer a strenuous opposition to Eckhardt s request, 
an opposition which yielded only when every argument seemed 
to have failed. At last they had parted, Eckhardt passing 
unobserved to a terrace and gaining a path that led through 
an orange grove behind the Vatican gardens. A few steps 
brought him to a gate, which opened on a narrow vicolo. 
Here he paused and clapped his hands softly together. The 
signal was repeated from the other side and Eckhardt there 
upon lifted the heavy iron latch, which fastened the gate on 
the inner side and, passing out, carefully closed it behind him. 
Here he was joined by another personage wrapt in a long, dark 
cloak, and together they proceeded through a maze of dark, 
narrow and unfrequented alleys. Lane after lane they trav 
ersed, all unpaved and muddy. Another ten minutes walk 
between lightless houses, whose doors and windows were for 
the most part closed and barred, and they reached an old time- 
worn dwelling with a low unsightly doorway. It was secured 

233 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

by strong fastenings of bolts and bars, as though its tenant 
had sufficient motives for affecting privacy and retirement. 
The very nature of his calling would however have secured him 
from intrusion either by day or by night, from any one not 
immediately in need of his services. For here lived II Gobbo, 
the grave digger, a busy personage hi the Rome of those days. 
Eckhardt and his companion exchanged a swift glance as they 
approached the uncanny dwelling; eyeless, hoary with vegeta 
tion, rooted here and there, the front of the house gave no 
welcome. Eckhardt whispered a question to his companion, 
which was answered in the affirmative. Then he bade him 
knock. After a wait of brief duration, the summons was 
answered by a low cough within. Shuffling footsteps were 
heard, then the unbarring of a door, followed by the creaking 
of hhiges, and the low bent figure of an old man appeared. 
II Gobbo, the grave digger wore a loose gray tunic, which reached 
to his knees. What was visible of his countenance was cadav 
erous and ashen gray, as that of a corpse. His small rat-like 
eyes, whose restless vigilance argued some deficiency or warping 
of the brain, a tendency, however remote, to insanity, scrutinized 
the stranger with marked suspicion, while a long nose, curving 
downward over a projecting upper lip, which seemed in per 
petual tremor, imbued his countenance with something 
strangely Mephistophelian. 

In a very few words Eckhardt s companion requested 
the grave digger to make ready and follow them, and 
that worthy, seeing nothing strange in a summons of 
this sort, complied at once, took pick and spade, and 
after having locked and barred his habitation, asked his 
solicitor to which burial grounds he was to accompany 
them. 

" To San Pancrazio," was Eckhardt s curt reply. The 
silence had become almost insufferable to him, and something 
hi the manner of his speech caused the grave digger to be- 

234 



THE SECRET OF THE TOMB 

stow on him a swift glance. Then he preceded them in silence 
on the well-known way. 

It was a wonderful night. 

There was not a breath of air to stir the dying leaves of 
the trees. The clouds, which had risen at sunset in the West, 
had vanished, leaving the sky unobscured, arching deep blue 
over the yellow moon. 

As they approached the Ripetta, the grave digger suddenly 
paused and, facing the Margrave and his companion, inquired 
where the corpse was awaiting them. 

A strange, jarring laugh broke from Eckhardt s lips. 

" Never fear, my honest friend ! It is a very well conditioned 
corpse, that will play us no pranks and run away. Corpses 
do sometimes so I have been told. What think you, honest 
II Gobbo ? " 

The grave digger bestowed a glance upon his interlocutor, 
which left little doubt as to what he thought of his patron s 
sanity, then he crossed himself and hastened onward. The 
Tiber lay now on their left, and an occasional flash revealed 
the turbid waves rolling down toward the sea in the moonlight. 
Eckhardt and his companion exchanged not a word, as silently 
they strode behind their uncanny guide. On their left hand 
now appeared the baths of Caracalla, their external mag 
nificence slowly crumbling to decay, waterless and desolate. 
Towering on their right rose the Caelian hill in the moonlight, 
covered with ruins and neglected gardens. The rays of the 
higher rising moon fell through the great arches of the Neronian 
Aqueduct and near by were the round church of St. Stephen 
and a cloister dedicated to St. Erasmus. As they proceeded 
over the narrow grass-grown road, the silence which encom 
passed them was as intense as among the Appian sepulchres. 
At the gate of San Sebastiano, all traces of the road vanished. 
A winding path conducted them through a narrow valley, 
the silence of which was only broken by the occasional hoot of 

235 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

an owl, or the flitting across their path of a bat, which like an 
evil thought, seemed afraid of its own shadow. Then they 
passed the ancient church of Santa Ursula, which for many 
years formed the center of a churchyard. The path became 
more sterile and desolate with every step, only a few dwarfish 
shrubs breaking the monotony, to make it appear even more 
like a wilderness, until they came upon a ruined wall, and follow 
ing its course for some distance, reached a heavy iron gate. 
It gave a dismal, creaking sound as II Gobbo pushed it 
open and entered the churchyard of San Pancrazio in advance 
of his companions. 

Pausing ere he continued upon a way as yet unknown to 
him, he again turned questioningly toward his mysterious 
summoners, for as far as his eye could reach in the bright 
moonlight, he could discover no trace of a funeral cortege or 
ever so small number of mourners. Instead of satisfying 
II Gobbo s curiosity, Eckhardt briefly ordered him to follow him, 
and the grave digger, shaking his head with grave doubt, followed 
the mysterious stranger, who seemed so familiar with this 
abode of Death. They traversed the churchyard at a rapid 
pace, until they reached a mortuary chapel situated in a remote 
region. Here Eckhardt and his companion paused, and the 
former, turning about and facing II Gobbo, pointed to a grave 
in the shadows of the chapel. 

" Know you this grave ? " the Margrave accosted the 
grave digger, pointing to the grass-plot at his feet. 

The grave digger seemed to grope through the depths of his 
memory; then he bent low as if to decipher the inscription 
on the stone, but this effort was in so far superfluous, as he 
could not read. 

" Here lies one Ginevra, the wife of the German Com 
mander " 

He paused, again searching his memory, but this time in vain. 

" Eckhardt," supplied the Margrave himself. 

236 



THE SECRET OF THE TOMB 

" Eckhardt Eckhardt," the grave digger echoed, crossing 
himself at the sound of the dreaded name. 

" Open the grave ! " Eckhardt broke into II Gobbo s babbling, 
who had been wondering to what purpose he had been brought 
here. 

II Gobbo stared up at the speaker as if he mistrusted his hear 
ing, but made no reply. 

" Open the grave ! " Eckhardt repeated, leaning upon his 
sword. 

II Gobbo shook his head. No doubt the man was mad; 
else why should he prefer the strange request ? He looked 
questioningly at Eckhardt s companion, as if expecting the 
latter to interfere. But he moved not. A strange fear began 
to creep over the grave digger. 

" Here is a purse of gold, enough to dispel the qualms of your 
conscience," Eckhardt spoke with terrible firmness in his 
tones, offering II Gobbo a leather purse of no mean size. But 
the latter pushed it back with abhorrence. 

" I cannot I dare not. Who are you to prefer this 
strange request ? " 

" I am Eckhardt, the general ! Open the grave ! " 

II Gobbo cringed as though he had been struck a blow from 
some hi visible hand. 

" I dare not I dare not," he whined, deprecating the 
proffered gift. " The sin would be visited upon my head. 
It is written: Disturb not the dead." 

A terrible look passed into Eckhardt s face. 

" Is this purse not heavy enough ? I will add another." 

" It is not that it is not that," II Gobbo replied, almost 
weeping with terror. " I dread the vengeance of the 
dead! They will not permit the sacrilege to pass unpun 
ished." 

" Then let the punishment fall on my head ! " replied Eck 
hardt with terrible voice. " Take your spade, old man, for 

237 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

by the Almighty God who looks down upon us, you will not 
leave this place alive, unless you do as you are told." 

The old grave digger trembled in every limb. Helplessly 
he gazed about; imploringly he looked up into the face of 
Eckhardt s immobile companion, but he read nothing in the 
eyes of these two, save unrelenting determination. Instinctively 
he knew that no argument would avail to deter them from their 
mad purpose. 

Eckhardt watched the old man closely. 

" You dug this grave yourself, three years ago," he then 
spoke in a tone strangely mingled of despair and irony. " It 
is a poor grave digger who permits his dead to leave their cold 
and narrow berth and go forth among the living in the form 
they bore on earth! It has been whispered to me," he con 
tinued with a terrible laugh, " that some of your graves are 
shallow. I would fain be convinced with my own eyes, just 
to be able to give your calumniators the lie ! Therefore, good 
II Gobbo, take up your spade with all speed, and imagine, as 
you perform your task, that you are not opening this grave to 
disturb the repose of her who sleeps beneath the sod, but 
preparing a reception to one still in the flesh ! Proceed ! " 

The last word was spoken with such menace that the grave 
digger reluctantly complied, and taking up the spade, which 
he had dropped, he pushed it slowly into the sod. Leaning 
silently on his sword, his face the pallor of death, Eckhardt and 
his companion watched the progress of the terrible work, 
watched one shovel of earth after the other fly up, piling up 
by the side of the grave; watched the oblong opening grow 
deeper and deeper, till after a breathless pause of some duration 
the spade of the grave digger was heard to strike the top of the 
coffin. 

II Gobbo, who all but his head stood now in the grave, 
looked up imploringly to Eckhardt, hoping that at the last 
moment he would desist from the terrible sacrilege he was 

238 



THE SECRET OF THE TOMB 

about to commit. But when he read only implacable deter 
mination in the commander s face, he again turned to his task 
and continued to throw up the earth until the coffin stood free 
and unimpeded in its narrow berth. 

" I cannot raise it up," the old man whined. " It is too 
heavy." 

" We will assist you ! Out it shall come if all the devils in 
hell clung to it from beneath. Bring your ropes and bring them 
quickly! Hear you?" thundered Eckhardt hi a frenzy. 
His self -enforced calm was fast giving way before the terrible 
ordeal he was passing through. 

" Would it not be safer to go down and open the lid ? " 
questioned Eckhardt s companion, for the first time breaking 
the silence. 

" There is not room enough, unless the berth is widened," 
Eckhardt replied. Then he turned to II Gobbo, who was 
slowly scrambling out of the grave. 

" Widen the berth we will come down to you ! " 

The grave digger returned to his task; then after a time, 
which seemed eternity to those waiting above, his head again 
appeared in the opening. One shovel of earth after another 
flew up at the feet of Eckhardt and his companion. Again 
and again they heard the spade strike against the coffin, till 
at last something like a groan out of the gloom below informed 
them that the task had been accomplished. 

" Have you any tools ? " Eckhardt shouted to II Gobbo. 

" None to serve that end," stammered the grave digger. 

" Then take your spade and prise the lid open ! " cried 
Eckhardt. He was trembling like an aspen, and his breath 
came hard through his half-closed lips. The expression of 
his face and his demeanour were such as to vanquish the last 
scruples of II Gobbo, who belaboured the coffin with much good 
will, which was mocked by the result, for it seemed to have 
been hermetically sealed. 

239 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

After waiting some time in deadly, harrowing suspense, 
Eckhardt addressed his companion. 

" I hate to abase my good sword for such a purpose, but 
the coffin shall be opened." And without warning he bounded 
down into the grave, while II Gobbo, thinking his last moment 
at hand, had dropped pick and spade, and stood, more dead 
than alive, at the foot of the grave. 

Picking up the grave digger s spade, Eckhardt dealt the coffin 
such a terrific blow that he splintered its top to atoms. A 
second blow completely severed the lid, and it lurched heavily 
to one side, lodging between the coffin and the earth wall. 

The ensuing silence was intense. 

The moon, which had risen high in the heavens, illumined 
with her beams the chasm in which Eckhardt stood, bending 
over the coffin. What his eyes beheld was too terrible for words 
to express. Only one tress of dark silken hair had escaped 
the dread havoc of death, which the open coffin revealed. It 
was a sight such as would cause the blood to freeze hi the veins 
of the bravest. It was the visible execution of the judgment 
pronounced hi the garden of Eden: " Dust thou art, and to 
dust thou shalt return." 

Only one dark silken tress of all that splendour of body and 
youth ! 

Eckhardt leaped from the grave and stood aside, leaving 
it for his companion to give his final instructions to 
II Gobbo, the grave digger, and the reward for his night s 
labour. 

As they strode from the churchyard of San Pancrazio, 
neither spoke. The havoc of death, which Eckhardt s eyes 
had beheld, the contrast between the image of Ginevra, such 
as it lived hi his memory, and the sight which had met his 
eyes, had re-opened every wound hi his heart. No beam of 
hope, no thought of heavenly mercy, penetrated the night of 
his soul. His heart seemed steel-cased and completely walled 

240 



THE SECRET OF THE TOMB 

up. He could not even shed a tear. One hour had worked a 
dreadful transformation. Silently the Margrave and his com 
panion left the churchyard. Silently they turned toward the 
city. At the base of Aventine, Benilo parted from Eckhardt, 
himself more dead than alive, promising to see him on the 
folio whig day. He dared not trust himself even to ask Eckhardt 
what he had seen. There would be time enough when his 
terrible frenzy had subsided. 

As Eckhardt continued upon his way, he grew more calm. 
The feast of Death, which he had dared to break into, while 
for a time completely stupefying him with its horrors, seemed 
at least to have brought proof positive, that whoever Ginevra s 
double, it was not Ginevra returned to earth. There was much 
in that thought to comfort his soul, and after the fresh air of 
night had cooled his fevered brow, saner reflections began to 
gam sway over his whirling brain. 

But they did not endure. What he had seen proved nothing. 
Another body might have been substituted in the coffin. The 
supposition was monstrous indeed yet even the wildest 
surmises seemed justified when thrown hi the scales against 
the fatal likeness of the woman who had drawn him from the 
altars of Christ, had frustrated his design to become a monk, 
and had, as he believed, attempted his life. Could he but find 
the monk who had conducted the last rites! He had searched 
for him hi every cloister and sanctuary hi Rome, yet all those 
of whom he inquired disclaimed all knowledge of his abode. 
Several times the thought had recurred to Eckhardt of return 
ing to the Groves, to seek a second interview with the woman, 
and thus for ever to silence his doubts. But a strange dread 
had assailed and restrained him from the execution. There 
was something hi the woman s eyes he had never seen in 
Ginevra s, and he felt that he would inevitably succumb, 
should he ever again stand face to face with her. He almost 
wished that he had followed Benilo s advice, that he had 

241 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

refrained from an act prompted by frenzy and despair. Vain 
regrets! He must find the monk, if he was still in Rome. 
Though everything and everybody seemed to have conspired 
against him nothing should bend him from his course. 



242 



CHAPTER V 




THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

OR the following day the Sena 
tor of Rome had arranged a 
Festival of Pan, and the place 
appointed for the divertissement 
was one which the Seneschal of 
the Decameron might have 
chosen as fit for the reception of 
his luxurious masters, where 
every object was in harmony with 
the delicious and charmed exist 
ence which they had devised in defiance of Death. Arcades of 
vines, bright with the gold and russet foliage of autumn, ascended 
in winding terraces to a height, on which they converged, form 
ing a spacious canopy over an expanse of brightest emerald 
turf, inlaid with a mosaic of flowers. In the centre there was 
a fountain, which sent its spray to a great height in the clear 
air, refreshing soul and body with the harmony of its waters. 
Between the interstices of the vines, magnificent views of the 
whole surrounding country were offered to the eye, to which 
feature perhaps, or to the effect of a dazzling variety of 
late roses, which grew among the vines, and the lofty cypresses 
which made the elevation a conspicuous object in every direc 
tion, it owes its present designation of Belvedere. 

Stephania s spell had worked powerfully on its intended 
victim. Surrounded by everything which could kindle the 
fires of Love and stimulate the imagination, exposed to the 
influence of her marvellous beauty and the infinite charm of 

243 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

her individuality, Otto was devoured by a passion, which 
hourly increased, despite the struggle which he put forth to 
resist it. Stephania s absence had taught him how necessary 
she had become to his existence, and although he was well in 
formed that she rarely quitted Castel San Angelo, he was yet 
tortured by the wildest fancies, entirely oblivious that he had 
given all his youth, his love, his heart to a beautiful phantom, - 
the wife of another, who could never be his own. And though 
he endeavoured to reason with his madness, though he ques 
tioned himself where it would lead to, in what strange manner 
he had absorbed the poison which rioted in his system, it was 
of no avail. The dictates of Fate vanquish the paltry laws 
of mortals. This love had come to him unbidden uncalled. 
Why must the soul remain for ever isolated when the unbounded 
feast of beauty was spread to all the senses? And was it not 
too late to retreat ? It was the last trump of the tempter. 

He won. 

As he approached the Minotaurus, Otto s hope brightened 
with the tints of the rainbow. For the first time since his 
return from Monte Gargano he had discarded his usual cum 
brous habiliments, and though his garb was still that prescribed 
by the court ceremonial, it added much to display his princely 
person to advantage. Confiding much more in the secrecy of 
his movements than in the protection of his attendants, Otto 
had left the palace on the Aventine unobserved and arrived in 
the vale of Egeria with a whirl of passion and a rush of recol 
lections, which not only took from him all power, but every 
wish of resistance, a far more dangerous symptom. 

Stephania s duenna was in waiting and informed him that 
the latter had dismissed her ladies to amuse themselves at 
their pleasure in the gardens, while Stephania herself was 
wreathing a garland for the evening in the Egerian Grotto, 
which formed the centre of the fantastic labyrinth called the 
Minotaurus, from an antique statue of the monster which 

244 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

adorned it. Slipping a ring of great value on the old dame s 
finger, as a testimony, he said, of his gratitude, for watching 
over her mistress, Otto hastened onward. His heart beat so 
heavily when he came within view of the rose-matted arches 
leading to the ancient grotto, that he was obliged to pause to 
recover his breath. At that moment a voice fell upon his ear, 
but it was not the voice of Stephania, and with a feeling almost 
of suffocation in the intensity of his passion, Otto drew aside 
the foliage to ascertain whether or not his senses had belied 
him. 

The figure of the Minotaurus was cast hi bronze, a mon 
strous bull, crouched, head to the ground, on the marble pave 
ment of the temple. Passing the statue, Otto made for the 
grotto indicated by his guide, and, raising the tapestry of ivy, 
which concealed it, disappeared within. Guided by the warm 
evening light to its entrance, he hesitated as if apprehending 
some treachery. Then, with quick determination he groped 
his way into the cavern, paused somewhat suddenly and looked 
about. 

It was deserted, but a faint glimmer lured him to the back 
ground, where a fountain gleamed in the purple twilight. 

" Rash mortal," said a voice, hi tones that made his heart 
jump to his throat, " I think you are now as near as devout 
worshippers are wont to approach to my waves, though, as 
one of the initiated, the vestal nymphs of these caves bid you 
very welcome." 

" I have kept my faith," Otto replied, pausing before the 
veiled apparition which sat on the rim of the fountain. " But 
your veil hides you as effectually from my gaze as a moun 
tain." 

His agitation betrayed itself in his wavering tones. 

" Are you afraid," she asked, noting his hesitancy, " lest I 
should prove the fiend who tempted Cyprianus ? " 

" All fears redouble in the darkness. Let me see your face ! " 

245 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Why have you come here ? " 

" Why have you summoned me ? " 

" Perhaps to test your courage." 

" I fear nothing ! " 

" One word of mine, one gesture, and you are my pris 
oner." 

Otto remained standing. His face was pale, but no trace of 
fear appeared thereon. 

" I trust you." 

" I am a Roman, and your enemy ! I am the enemy of 
your people ! " 

"I trust you!" 

" Suppose I had lured you hither to end for ever this un 
bearable state ? " 

" I trust you ! " 

Stephania s eyes cowered beneath Otto s gaze. Rising 
abruptly she averted her head, but every trace of colour had 
left her face as she raised the veil. Then she turned slowly and 
extended her hand. Otto grasped it, pressing it to his lips 
hi an ecstasy of joy, then he drew her down to the seat she had 
abandoned, kneeling by her side. 

For a moment she gazed at him thoughtfully. 

" What do you want of me ? " she then asked abruptly. 

" I would have you be my friend," he stammered, idol- 
worship in his eyes. 

" Is a woman s friendship so rare a commodity, that you 
come to me ? " she replied, drawing her hand from him. 

" I have never known woman s love nor friendship, and 
it is yours I want." 

Stephania drew a long breath. Truly, it required no 
effort on her part to lead him on. He made her task an easy 
one. Yet there rose in her heart a spark of pity. The complete 
trust of this boy-king was to the wife of Crescentius a novel 
sensation in the atmosphere of doubt and suspicion in which 

246 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

she had grown up. It was almost a pity to shatter the temple 
in which he had placed her as goddess. 

The mood held sway but a moment, then with a cry of 
delirious gayety, she wrote the word " Friendship " rapidly 
on the water. 

" Look," she said, " scarcely a ripple remains ! That is 
the end. Let us but add another word, Farewell and 
let the trace it shall leave tell when we shall meet again." 

The words died on Otto s lips. He could not fathom the 
lightning change which had come over her. With mingled 
sadness and passion he gazed upon the lovely face, so pale and 
cold. 

" Let us not part thus," he stammered. 

Stephania had risen abruptly, shaking herself free of his 
kneeling form. 

" What is it all to lead to ? " she questioned. 

Otto rose slowly to his feet. Reeling as if stunned by a blow, 
he staggered after her. 

" Do not leave me thus," he begged with outstretched arms. 

Stephania started away from him, as if hi terror. 

" Do not touch me, as you are a man " 

Otto s hand went to his head. Was he waking ? Was he 
dreaming ? Was this the same woman who had but a moment 
ago 

He had not time to think out the thought. 

He felt his neck encircled by an airy form and arms, and lips 
whose sweetness made his senses reel were breathlessly pressed 
upon his own. 

But for an evanescent instant the sensation endured. 

A voice whispered low: " Otto! " 

When he tried to embrace the mocking phantom he grasped 
the empty air. 

He rushed madly forward, but at this instant there arose 
a wild uproar and clamour around him. The silver moon on 

247 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

the fountain burst into a blaze of whirling light, which illumined 
the whole grotto. The shrill summons of a bell was to be heard 
as from the depths of the fountain, and suddenly the verdant 
precincts were crowded with a most extraordinary company, 
shouting, hooting, laughing, yelling, and waving torches. 
Satyrs, nymphs, fauns, and all varieties of sylvan deities poured 
out of every nook and cranny by which there was an entrance, 
all shrieking execration on the profaner of the sacred solitudes 
and brandishing sundry weapons appropriate to their qualities. 
The satyrs wielded their crooked staves, the fauns their stiff 
pine-wreaths, the nymphs their branches of oak, and a loud 
clamour arose. But by far the most formidable personages were 
a number of shepherds with huge boar-spears, who made 
their appearance on every side. 

" Pan ! Pan ! " shouted a hundred voices. " Come and 
judge the mortal who has dared to profane thy solitudes. 
Echo where is Pan ? " 

Distant and f aint the cry came back : 

"Pan! Where is Pan?" 

For a moment Otto stood rooted to the spot, believing him 
self hi all truth surrounded by the rural gods of antiquity. 
He stared at the scene before him as on some strange sorcery. 
But suddenly a suspicion rushed upon him that he was be 
trayed, either to be made the jest of a company of carnival s 
revellers, or, perhaps, the object of vengeance of the Senator 
of Rome. 

Gazing round with a quick fear in his heart, at finding him 
self thus completely surrounded, and meditating whether to 
attempt a forcible escape, he was startled by the shrill shriek 
of sylvan pipes and attended by a riotous company of satyrs, 
Pan on his goat-legs hobbled into the grotto, the satyrs playing 
a wild march on their oaken reeds. 

" Silence ! Where is the guilty nymph who has lured the 
mortal hither ? " shouted the sylvan god. 

248 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

" Egeria ! Egeria ! " resounded numerous accusing voices. 

" At thine old tricks again luring wisdom whither it should 
least come ? " questioned Pan, severely. " Yes, hide thyself 
in thy blushing waves! But the mortal, where is he ? " 

" Here ! Here ! " exclaimed the nymphs with one voice. 
" Had it been old Silenus or one of his satyrs, we had not 
wondered." 

" The King! the King! " resounded on all sides amidst a 
general outburst of laughter. 

Otto became more and more convinced that the scene had 
been enacted to mock him, and though he did not understand 
the drift of their purpose, at which Stephania had doubtlessly 
connived, a cold hand seemed to clutch his heart. 

" In very truth, you have the laughing side of the jest," he 
turned to the Sylvan god. " But if you will confront me with 
the nymph, I will prove that at least we ought to share in equal 
punishment," Otto concluded his defence, endeavouring to 
make the best of his dangerous position. 

" This shall not be ! " exclaimed a nymph near by. " Bring 
him along and our queen shall judge him." 

Ere Otto could give vent to remonstrance, he found himself 
hemmed in by the shepherds with their spears. His doubts 
as to the ultimate purpose of the revellers seemed now to call 
for some imperative decision, but while he remembered the 
dismal legends of these haunts, his lips still tingled with the 
magic fire of Stephania s kiss and it seemed impossible to him 
that she could really mean to harm him. Still he had grave 
misgivings, when suddenly a mocking voice saluted him and 
into the cave strode Johannes Crescentius, Senator of Rome, - 
apparently from the valley without, a smiling look of welcome 
on his face. 

" Fear nothing, King Otto," he said jovially. " Your sen 
tence shall not be too severe. Your forfeit shall be light, if 
you will but discover and point out to us the nymph who 

249 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

usurped the part of Egeria, that we may further address our 
selves to her for her reprehensible conduct." 

The feelings with which Otto listened to this beguiling and 
perhaps perfidious statement may be imagined. But he re 
plied with great presence of mind. 

" It were a vain effort indeed to recognize one nymph from 
another in the gloom. Lead on then, since it is the Senator of 
Rome who guarantees my immunity from the fate of 
Orpheus." 

Marching like a prisoner of war and surrounded by the 
shepherd spearmen, Otto affected to enter into the spirit of 
the jest and suffered himself quietly to be bound with chains 
of ivy which the least effort could snap asunder. The moment 
he stepped forth from the grotto his path was beset by a multi 
tude of the most extraordinary phantoms. The surrounding 
woods teemed with the wildest excrescences of pagan worship ; 
statues took lif e ; every tree yielded its sleeping Dryad ; strange 
melodies resounded in every direction; Nayades rose in the 
stream and laughingly showered their spray upon him. With 
a cheerful hunting blast Diana and her huntresses appeared 
on an overhanging rock and darted blunt arrows with gilded 
heads at him, until he arrived at an avenue of lofty elms, whose 
overarching branches, filigreed by the crimson after-glow of 
departing day, resembled the interior of a Gothic cathedral 
and formed a natural hall of audience fit for the rural divinities. 
Bosquets of orange trees, whose ivory tinted blossoms gleamed 
like huge pearls out of the dark green of the foliage, wafted an 
inexpressibly sweet perfume on the air. 

The vista terminated in an open, semi-circular court, sur 
rounded by terraces of richest emerald hue, in the midst of 
which rose an improvised throne. The rising moon shone 
upon it with a light, like that of a rayless sun, and Otto dis 
covered that the terraces were thronged with a splendid court, 
assembled round a woman who occupied the throne. 

25 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

As the prisoner approached, environed by his grotesque 
captors, laughter as inextinguishable as that which shook the 
ancient gods of Olympus on a similar occasion, resounded 
among the occupants of the terrace. Continuing his forced 
advance, Otto discovered with a strange beating of the heart 
in the splendidly attired queen, Stephania, the wife of Cres- 
centius. 

A bodice of silver-tissue confined her matchless form, 
which with every heave of her bosom threw iridescent gleams, 
and a diadem which shone as with stars, so bright were its 
jewels, flashed upon her brow. 

She looked a queen indeed, and but for the ivory pallor of her 
face it would have been impossible to guess that she was in any 
way concerned with the object of the strange pageant, which 
now approached her throne. 

The sphinx-like countenance of the Senator of Rome seemed 
to evince no very great enthusiasm in the frolic; the invited 
guests appeared not to know how to look, and took their cue 
from the Lord of Castel San Angelo. 

When Otto was at last brought face to face with his fair 
judge, his own pallor equalled that of Stephania, and both 
resembled rather two marble statues than beings of flesh and 
blood. Stephania s lips were tightly compressed, and when 
Pan recited his accusation, complaining of an attempt to pro 
fane his solitudes and to misguide one of his chastest nymphs, 
so far from overwhelming the culprit with the laughing 
raillery of which she was mistress and an outburst of which all 
seemed to expect, Stephania was silent and kept her eyes fixed 
on the ground, as if she feared to raise them and to meet 
Otto s burning gaze. 

" Answer, King of the Germans," urged Crescentius with 
a smile, " else you are lost ! " 

" The charges are too vague," Otto replied. " Let Pan, if 
he has any witness, of what has happened, allege particulars 

251 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

and if he does by his crooked staff, even my accusers shall 
acquit me without denial on my part." 

General mutterings and suppressed laughter followed this 
singular defence, during which Stephania s countenance took 
all the pallid tints, which the return of his consciousness and 
dignity had chased from Otto s cheeks. 

But she did not think it wise to prolong the scene. 

" Since the august offender," she said hastily and without 
lifting her long silken lashes, " cannot discover among my 
retinue the nymph who enticed him into the grotto, I pronounce 
this sentence upon him: Let his ignorance be perpetual. " 

Then she invited him to a seat in the circle over which she 
presided and her graciousness obviously caused Otto s spirits 
to rise, for, starting up, as it were, into new existence at the 
word, he took his station in a manner which enabled him to 
see Stephania s face and her glorious eyes. 

At the beck of her hand there now approached a band of 
musicians and the effect of their harmonies beneath the hushed 
and now star-resplendent skies was inexpressibly delicious. The 
dreams of Elysium seemed to be realized. These indeed seemed 
to be the happy fields, in the atmosphere of which the de 
lighted spirit was consoled for every woe, and as Otto almost 
unwittingly gazed upon the woman before him, so passionately 
loved and to him lost for ever ; as he marked the languor and 
melancholy which had stolen over her countenance, he could 
hardly restrain himself from throwing himself and all he called 
his, at her feet. 

Emperor and king though he was, the one jewel he 
craved lay beyond the confines of his dominion. 

After the conclusion of the serenade, the nymphs of Ste 
phania s retinue showered their flowers upon the sylvan gods, 
who eagerly scrambled over them, when Stephania started up, 
as from a dream. 

" How is this ? " she hurriedly exclaimed. " I still hold 

252 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

my flowers ? And you are all matched by the chances of the 
fragrant blossoms ? But King Otto is likewise without his 
due share, and so it would seem that fate would have him my 
companion at the collation awaiting us. Therefore, my lords 
and ladies, link hands as the flow ry oracles direct. I shall 
follow last with my exalted guest." 

Otto did not remark the quick glance which flashed between 
Crescentius and his wife. The ladies of Stephania s retinue 
immediately conformed to the expressed wish of the hostess 
by taking the arms of the cavaliers who had chanced upon 
their flowers. 

A number of pages, beautiful as cupids, lighted the way with 
torches which flamed with a perfumed lustre, and the proces 
sion moved anew towards the grotto, where, during their 
absence, a repast had been spread. But the last couple had 
preceded them some twenty paces, ere Stephania, without 
raising her eyes, took Otto s motionless arm. 

The memory of all that had passed, a natural feeling of 
embarrassment on both sides, prolonged the silence between 
them. Stephania doubtlessly fathomed his thoughts, for she 
smiled with a degree of timidity not unmingled with doubt, 
as she broke the silence. 

The question, though softly spoken, came swift as a dart 
and equally unexpected. 

" Have you ever loved, King Otto ? " 

Otto looked up with a start into her radiant face. 

He had anticipated some veiled rebuke for his own strange 
conduct, anything, not this. 

He breathed hard, then he replied: 

" Until I came to Rome, I never gazed on beauty that won 
from me more than the applause of the eye, which a statue or a 
painting, equally beautiful, might have claimed." 

She nodded dreamily. 

" I have heard it said that the blue-eyed, sunny-haired 

253 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

maidens of your native North make us Romans appear poor 
in your sight! " 

" Not so! The red rose is not discarded for the white. The 
contrast only heightens the beauty." 

" I have heard it said," Stephania continued, choosing a 
circuitous path instead of the direct one her guests had taken, 
" that you Teutons have ideals even, while you starve on bread 
and water. And I have been told that, were you permitted to 
choose for your life s companion the most beautiful woman on 
earth, you would hie yourselves into the gray ages of the world s 
dawn for the realization of your dreams. Has your ideal been 
realized, since you have established your residence in Rome, 
King Otto ? " 

There was a brief pause, then he replied, looking straight 
ahead : 

" Love comes more stealthily than light, of which even the 
dark cypresses are enamoured in your Italian noondays." 

" You evade my question." 

" What would you have me say ? " 

She gave him a quick glance, which set his pulses to throbbing 
wildly and sent the hot blood seething through his veins. 

" Is your heart free, King Otto? " 

A drear sense of desolation and loneliness came over the 
youth. 

" Free," he replied almost inaudibly. 

She gave a little, nervous laugh. 

" But how know you that, surrounded by such loveliness, 
as that which you have this very night witnessed hi my circle, 
your hour may not strike at last ? " 

Otto raised his eyes to those of the woman by his side. 

" Fair lady, beautiful as Love s oracle itself, my heart is in 
little danger even from your fairest satellites. But mistake 
not my meaning. I am not insusceptible to the fever of the 
Gods! Love I have sought under all forms and guises! And 

254 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

if I found it not, if I have listened to its richest eloquence as 
to some song in a foreign tongue, which my heart understood 
not, it is not that I have lacked the soul for love. Love I 
found not, though phantoms I have eagerly chased in this 
troubled dream of life. What avails it, to contend with one s 
destiny ? And this is mine ! " 

Stephania laughed. 

" You speak like some hoary anchorite from the Thebaide. 
Truly, now I begin to understand, why your chroniclers call 
you the Wonder-child of the World. Lover, idealist, and 
cynic in one! " 

" Nay you wrong me ! Cynic I am not! My mother was 
a princess of Greece. The fairest woman my eyes ever gazed 
upon save one ! She died in her youth and beauty, following 
my father, the emperor, into his early grave. I was left alone 
in the world, alone with the monks, alone hi the great gloom 
of our tall and spectral pines ! The monks understood not my 
craving for the sun and the blue skies. The whiter snows of 
Thuringia chilled my heart and froze my soul! I longed for 
Rome I craved for the South. My dead mother s blood 
flows hi my veins. Hither I came, braving the avalanches 
and the fever and the wrath of the electors, I came, once more 
to challenge the phantoms of the past from their long forgotten 
tombs, to make Rome what once she was the capital of 
the earth. Rome s dream is Eternity! " 

Stephania listened in silence and with downcast eyes. 

Never had the ear of the beautiful Roman heard words like 
these. The illiteracy, vileness, and depravity of her own 
countrymen never perhaps presented itself to her in so glaring 
a contrast, as when thrown into comparison with the ideal son 
of the Empress Theophano and Otto II, of Saracenic renown. 
His words were like some strange music, which flatters the 
senses, that try in vain to retain their harmonies. 

There was a pause during which neither spoke. 

255 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Otto thought he felt the soft pressure of Stephania s arm 
against his own. 

" You spoke of one who alone might challenge the dead 
empress in point of fairness," the woman spoke at last and her 
voice betrayed an emotion which she vainly strove to conceal. 
" Who is that one ? " 

" Why do you ask ? " 

" Theophano s beauty was renowned. Even our poets sing 
of her." 

" I will tell you at some other time." 

" Tell me now! " 

" We are approaching the grotto. Your guests are waiting." 

"Tell me now! " 

" Crescentius is expecting us. He will be wondering at our 
tardiness." 

" Tell me now! " 

Otto breathed hard. 

" Oh, why do you ask, Stephania, why do you ask ? " 

" Who is the woman ? " 

The question fell huskily from her lips. 

The answer came, soft as a zephyr that dies as it passes : 

" Stephania! " 

Quickening their steps they reached the grotto, without 
daring to face each other. The woman s heart throbbed as 
impetuously as that of the youth, as they found themselves 
at the entrance of the Grotto of Egeria in a blaze of light, 
emanating from innumerable torches artfully arranged among 
the stalactites, which diffused brilliant irradiations. The 
sumptuous dresses of the nobles and barons blazed into view; 
the spray from the fountain leaped up to a great height and 
descended in showers of liquid jewels of iridescent hues. 

A collation of fruits and wines wooed the appetite of the 
guests on every hand. Sweet harmonies floated from the 
adjoining groves, and, amidst a general buzz of delight and 

256 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

admiration, Stephania took her seat at the festal board between 
the Senator of Rome and the German king. 

The flower of beauty, wit and magnificence of the Senator s 
Roman court had been culled to grace this festival, for there 
was no one present, who was not remarked for at least one of 
these attributes, some even by the union of all. The most 
beautiful women of Rome surrounded the consort of the 
Senator, who outshone them all. Even envy could not deny 
her the crown. 

Nevertheless, and for the first time, perhaps, Stephania 
seemed to misdoubt the supremacy and power of her great 
beauty, and while she affected being absorbed hi other matters, 
her eye watched with devouring anxiety every glance of her 
exalted guest, whose feverish vivaciousness betrayed to her 
his inmost thoughts. 

The Senator s countenance was that of the Sphinx of the 
desert. He appeared neither to see nor to hear. 

Otto meanwhile, in order to remove from his path the terrible 
temptation which he felt growing with every instant, in order 
to divert Eckhardt s attention, who he instinctively felt was 
watching his every gesture, and to stifle any possible sus 
picions, which Crescentius might entertain, affected to be 
struck with the appearance of one of Stephania s ladies, who 
resembled her in stature and in the colour of her hair. He 
intentionally mistook her for the fairy in the grotto, laughingly 
challenging her acquaintance, which she as merrily denied, 
declaring herself to be the wife of one of the barons present. 
But Otto would not be convinced and attached himself to her 
with a zeal, which brought on both many pointed jests on the 
part of the assembled revellers. 

Stephania immediately observed the ruse, but as her eye met 
that of the Senator, an unaccountable terror seized her. She 
turned away and pretended to join her guests in their merri 
ment. Among those present were some of the most 

257 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

imaginative and prolific minds of an age, otherwise dark 
and illiterate, yet the brilliant play and coruscations of 
Stephania s wit, the depth of some of the glittering remarks 
which fell from her lips, were not surpassed by any. At times 
she exhibited a tone of recklessness almost bordering on de 
fiance and mockery, the lightning s power to scorch as well as 
to illumine, but when relapsing into what appeared her more 
natural mood, it was scarcely possible to resist the grace and 
seductiveness of her manner. Even the doctrines, which half 
in gayety, half in haughty acceptance of the character assigned 
to her on this evening, she promulgated, full of poetical epi 
cureanism, fell with so sweet a harmony from her lips, that 
saints could not have wished them mended. 

Otto, meanwhile, continued to play his self-assigned part, 
but he lost not a single word or gesture of Stephania and his 
fervour towards his chosen partner rose in proportion with 
Stephania s gayety. But he did not fail to observe that her 
siren-smile was directed towards himself and his soul drank 
in the beams of her beauty, as the palm-tree absorbs the fervid 
suns of Africa, motionless with delight. 

While gayety and convivial enjoyment seemed at their 
height, Eckhardt strode from the grotto, unobserved by the 
revellers and entered a secluded path leading into the remoter 
regions of the park. Otto s predilection for the wife of the 
Senator of Rome had escaped him as little as had her own 
seeming coquetry, and he had looked on in silence, until, 
seized with profound disgust, he could bear it no longer. 

What he had always feared was coming to pass. 

When the Romans could no longer vanquish their foes on 
the field of battle, they destroyed them with their women. 

The gardens which Eckhardt traversed resembled the 
fabled treasure-house of Aladdin. Every tree glistened with 
sparkling clusters of red, blue and green lights, every flower 
bed was bordered with lines and circles of iridescent globes, 

258 



THE GROTTOS OF EGERIA 

and the fountains tossed up spiral columns of amber, rose 
and amethyst spray against the transparent azure of the 
summer skies, in which a lustrous golden moon shone full. 

But a madness seemed suddenly to have seized the revellers. 

No one knew whither Crescentius had gone. 

No one knew who was a dancer, a flute-player, a noble. 

Satyrs and fauns fell to chasing nymphs with shouting. 
Everywhere laughter and shouts were heard, whispers and 
panting breaths. Darkness covered certain parts of the 
groves. Truly it was a long time, since anything similar had 
been seen hi Rome. 

Roused and intoxicated by the contamination, the fever had 
at last seized Otto. Rushing into the forest, he ran with the 
others. New flocks of nymphs swarmed round him every 
moment. Seeing at last a band of maidens led by one arrayed 
as Diana, he sprang to it, intending to scrutinize the goddess 
more closely. They encircled him hi a mad whirl, and, evidently 
bent upon making him follow, rushed away the next moment 
like a herd of deer. But he stood rooted to the spot with wildly 
beating heart. 

A great yearning, such as he had never felt before, seized 
him at that moment and the love for Stephania rushed to his 
heart as a tremendous tidal wave. Never had she seemed to 
him so pure, so dear, so beloved, as in that forest of frenzied 
madness. A moment before he had himself wished to drink 
of that cup, which drowned past and present; now he was 
seized with repugnance and remorse. He felt stifled in this 
unholy air; his eyes sought the stars, glimmering through 
the interstices of the interwoven branches. 

A shadow fell across his path. 

He turned. Before him stood Eckhardt, the Margrave. 

" I have seen and heard," he spoke in response to Otto s 
questioning gaze. " King of the Germans, I have enough of 
Rome, enough of feasts, enough of conquests. I am stifling. 

259 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

I cannot breathe in this accursed air. Command the return be 
yond the Alps. On these siren rocks your ship will founder! 
Rome is no place for you! " 

Otto stared at the man as if he feared he had lost his senses. 

" King of the Germans," Eckhardt continued, " on my 
knees I entreat you at the risk of your displeasure, return 
beyond the Alps! See what has become of you! See what a 
woman has made of you, you, the son of the vanquisher of the 
Saracens! " 

He stretched out his arms entreatingly, as if to lead him 
away. 

Otto covered his face with both hands. 

" And I love only her in the wide, wide world," he muttered. 

At this juncture a light, elastic step resounded on the gravel 
path. 

Benilo stepped into the clearing. 

" Stephania awaits the king in the pavillion." 

Eckhardt laid his hands on Otto s shoulders, straining his 
eyes in silent entreaty into those of the King. 

" Do not go ! " he begged. 

Otto winced, but the presence of Benilo caused him to shake 
himself free of the Margrave s restraining hand. 

" Stephania is waiting," he stammered. 

" Then you will not grant my request ? " Eckhardt spoke 
with quivering voice. 

" In Rome we live, in Rome we die ! " 

Taking Benilo s arm he hastened away, leaving Eckhardt 
to ponder over his prophetic words. 

For a moment the Margrave remained, straining his gaze 
after Otto s retreating form. 

His heart was heavy, heavy to breaking. Dared he enter 
the arena against the Sorceress of Rome ? He laughed aloud. 

There are moments when the tragedy of our own life is 
almost amusing. 

260 



CHAPTER VI 




BEYOND THE GRAVE 

CKHARDT turned to go, but he 
had barely moved, when, as if 
risen from the earth, there 
stood before him the tall, veiled 
form of a woman, who whis 
pered, flooding his face with her 
burning breath: 

" I love you ! Come ! No 
one will see us! " 

Eckhardt trembled hi every 
limb. He would have known that voice, even if it had spoken 
to him from the depths of the grave. The heavy veil which 
shrouded the woman s face prevented him from scrutinizing 
her features. 

" Who are you ? " he stammered, just to say something. 
Swift as thought she threw her arms round him, but to 
recede as swiftly. 

" Hurry! See how lonely it is! I love you! Come! " 
" Who are you ? " 
" Can you not guess ? " 

He stretched out his arms toward her, but she gambolled 
before him, as a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower. 

"Night of Love night of madness," she whispered. 
" To-night, if you but will it, the secret is yours! " 

Her voice thrilled him through and through. The 
perfume of the Poppy-flower sank benumbing into 
his heart. It was her voice, it was her form, was 

261 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

it but a mocking phantom, what was it ? Again she 
approached him. 

" Lift the veil! " she spoke in a voice of command. 

With trembling hand he started to obey, when the leaves of 
the nearest myrtle-bush began to rustle. 

Eckhardt heard nothing, saw nothing. 

As Benilo stepped into the moonlight, the apparition vanished 
like a dream phantom, but from the distance her laugh was 
heard, strange hi some way, and ominous. 

Eckhardt rushed after the fading vision like a madman. 

Would it mock him for ever, wherever he was, wherever he 
went ? 

How long he had followed it, in headlong, breathless pursuit, 
as on that fateful eve, when it had lured him from the altars of 
Christ, he knew not. When he at last desisted from the mad 
and fruitless chase, he found himself at the base of the Capito- 
line Hill. Here were scattered the ruins of the old Mamertine 
prisons, once a series of cells rising in stages against the rock 
to a considerable height. Here were the baths of Mamertius, 
where Jugurtha, the Numidian, was starved. There Simon Bar 
Gioras, the Jew, was strangled, he, who to the last maintained 
the struggle against the victorious son of Vespasian. In the 
cell to the right Appius Claudius, the Triumvir, was said to have 
committed suicide. Another cell reechoed from the clangour 
of the chains of Simon Petrus. It was not a region where men 
tarried long, and few relished the fare of the low taverns, which 
were strung along the gray wall of Servius Tullius. For weird 
and dismal wails were at times to be heard in clear moonlight 
nights, and the region of the Capitoline Hill, cut by the old 
Gemonian stairs, was in ill repute, as in the days of Republican 
Rome. 

He had not gone very far when he found himself before 
the entrance of a cavern, and Eckhardt s attention was caught 
by a strange red glow as from some fire within. As he gazed 

262 



BEYOND THE GRAVE 

it died out, and he was left in doubt, whether it was an illusion 
of his imagination, or some phenomenon peculiar to the spot. 
The prisoners of the Roman state were no longer conveyed 
hither for safe-keeping, but confined in the dismal dungeons 
of Torre di Nona and Corte Savella. The glimmer he had seen 
could not therefore emanate from the cell of some unfortunate, 
here awaiting his sentence. Vainly he strained his gaze. 
All was darkness again within, and although the moon was 
high in a clear sky, set with innumerable stars, their distant 
glimmer could not penetrate the murky depths. 

Eckhardt waited some minutes and the glimmer reappeared. 
What urged him onward to explore the cause of the strange 
light he could not have told. Still he dared not venture into 
the gloom without the aid of a torch. Quickly resolved he 
retraced his steps towards the few scattered houses, near the 
ancient wall, entered a dimly lighted, evil-smelling shop, 
purchased torch and flints and returned to the entrance of 
the cavern. 

After lighting his torch he entered slowly and carefully, 
marking every step he took in the dust and sand, which covered 
the ground of the cave. The farther he advanced the more 
singular grew the spectacle which greeted his gaze. 

The cavern was of great extent, composed of enormous 
masses of rocks, seemingly tossed together in chaotic confusion, 
and glittering all over in the blaze of innumerable irradiations, 
as with serpents of coloured light, so singularly brilliant and 
twisted were the stalactites which clustered within. There 
was one rock, in which a strong effort of the imagination 
might have shaped resemblance to a crucifix. Fastened to 
this by an iron rivet, a chain and a belt round his waist, lay 
the form of a man, apparently in a deadly swoon, as if ex 
hausted from the struggle against the massive links. Some 
embers still burned near the prisoner and had probably been 
the means of attracting Eckhardt s attention, 

263 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Startled by the strange sight which encountered his gaze, 
Eckhardt eagerly surveyed the person of the prisoner. He 
appeared a man who had passed his prime, and his frame 
betokened a scholar rather than an athlete. His head being 
averted, Eckhardt was not able to scan his features. 

At first Eckhardt was inclined to attribute the prisoner s 
plight to an attack by outlaws who had stripped him, and 
then, to secure secrecy and immunity, had left him to his 
fate. But a second consideration staggered this presumption, 
for as he raised his torch above the man s head, he discovered 
the tonsure which proclaimed him a monk, and what bandit, 
ever so desperate, would perpetrate a deed, which would consign 
his soul to purgatory for ever more ? Besides, what wealth 
had a friar to tempt the avidity of a bravo ? 

Vainly puzzling his brain, as to the probable authorship of 
a deed, as dark as the identity of the hapless creature, thus 
securely fettered to the stone, he looked round. There was 
no vestige of drink or food ; perhaps the man was starved and 
slowly expiring hi the last throes of exhaustion. His breath 
came in rasping gasps and the short-cropped raven-blue hair 
slightly tinged with gray heightened the cadaverous tints of 
the body, which was of the colour of dried parchment. 

The sudden flow of light, which flooded his eyes, perhaps 
long unaccustomed thereto, caused the prostrate man to writhe 
and to start from his swoon. His eyes, deeply sunk in their 
sockets, and flashing a strange delirious light, stared with awe 
and fear into the flame of the torch. 

But no sooner had he encountered Eckhardt s gaze than he 
uttered a cry of dismay and would have relapsed imto his 
swoon, had not the Margrave grasped him by the shoulder 
in an effort to support the weak, tottering body. But the cry 
had startled him, and so great was Eckhardt s dismay, that 
his fingers relaxed their hold and the man fell back, striking his 
head against the rock. 

264 



BEYOND THE GRAVE 

" I am dying fetch me some water," he begged piteously 
and Eckhardt stepped outside of the cavern and filled his helmet 
from a well, whose crystal stream seemed to pour from the 
fissures of the Tarpeian rock. This he carried to the hapless 
wretch, raising his head and holding it to his lips. The prisoner 
drank greedily and stammered his thanks in a manner as if 
his tongue had swollen too big for his mouth. 

There was a breathless silence, then Eckhardt said: 

" I have sought you long everywhere. How came you 
in this plight ? " 

The monk looked up. In his eyes there was a great fear. 

" Pity pity! " he muttered, vainly endeavouring to raise 
himself. 

Eckhardt s stern gaze was his sole reply. 

The ensuing silence seemed to both an eternity. 

The monk could not bear the Margrave s gaze, and had 
closed his eyes. 

" What of Ginevra ? " 

Slowly the words fell from Eckhardt s lips. 

The monk groaned. His limbs writhed and strained against 
the chains that fettered him to the rock. But he made no 
reply. 

" What of Ginevra ? " Eckhardt repeated inexorably. 

Still there came no answer. 

Eckhardt stooped over the prostrate form like a spirit of 
vengeance descended from on high and so fiercely burned his 
gaze upon the monk that the latter vainly endeavoured to 
turn away his face. He could feel those eyes, even though his 
own were closed. 

" You stand in the shadow of death," Eckhardt spoke, 
" You will never leave this cavern alive ! Answer briefly 
and truthfully, and I will have your body consigned to 
consecrated earth and masses said for your soul. Remain 
obdurate and rot where you lie, till the trumpet blast of 

265 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

resurrection day chases the worms from their loathsome 
feast!" 

The dying man answered with a groan. 

" What of Ginevra ? " Eckhardt questioned for the third 
time. 

The monk breathed hard. A tremor shook his limbs as he 
gasped : 

" Ginevra lives." 

Eckhardt s hands went to his head. He closed his eyes in 
mortal agony and for a moment nothing but his heavy breath 
ing was to be heard in the cavern. When he again looked 
down upon the prostrate man, he saw his lips turn purple, saw 
the film of death begin to cover his eyes. How much there 
was to be asked. How brief the time! 

" You chanted the Requiem over the body of Ginevra, know 
ing her to be among the living ? " 

The monk nodded feebly. 

Eckhardt s breath came hard. His breast heaved, as if it 
must burst and his hand shook so violently that some of the 
hot pitch from the taper struck the prisoner on the shoulder. 
He writhed with a groan. 

" What prompted the hellish deceit ? " Eckhardt continued. 
" Did she not have my love ? " 

The monk shook his head. 

" It was not enough. It was not enough! " 

" What more had I to give ? " 

" Marozia s inheritance the emperor s tomb ! " 

" Marozia s inheritance ? " Eckhardt repeated, like one in a 
dream. " The emperor s tomb ? What madness is this ? 
She never hinted at a wish unfulfilled." 

" She asked you never to lift the veil from her past ! " 

The monk s words fell like a thunderbolt on Eckhardt s 
head. 

" How came you by this knowledge ? " he questioned aghast. 

266 



BEYOND THE GRAVE 

" Give me some water I am choking," gasped the monk. 

Again Eckhardt held the helmet to his lips, while he prayed 
that the spark of life might remain long enough in that en 
feebled body, to clear the mystery, at whose brink he stood. 

The monk drank greedily, and when his thirst seemed 
appeased the water ran out of the corners of his mouth. He 
again relapsed into a swoon; he heard Eckhardt s questions, 
but lacked strength to answer. 

Stooping over him, Eckhardt grasped him by the shoulder 
and shook him mercilessly. He must not die, until he knew 
all. 

A terrible certainty flashed through his mind. 

This monk knew what was to him a seven times sealed book. 

He had repeated to him Ginevra s wish, now, nor heaven 
nor hell should turn him from his path. 

" I thought, Marozia s descendants were all dead," he 
said, fear and hesitation in his tones. 

The monk feebly shook his head. 

" One lives, the deadliest of the flock." 

A chill as of death seemed to benumb Eckhardt s limbs. 

" One lives," he gasped. " Her name ? " 

Delirium seemed to have seized the prostrate wretch. He 
mumbled strange words while his ringers were digging into 
the sand, as if he were preparing his own grave. 

" Her name! " thundered Eckhardt into the monk s ear. 

The latter raised himself straight up and stared at the Mar 
grave with dead, expressionless eyes. 

" In the world, Ginevra, beyond the grave Theodora! " 

" Theodora ! " A groan broke from Eckhardt s lips. 

" And is this her work ? " 

He pointed to the monk s chains, and the iron rivets driven 
into the rocks. 

The monk shook his head. The spark of life flickered up 
once more. 

267 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Five days without food, without water, left here to 
perish by a villain whom the lightnings of heaven may 
blast the betrayer of God and of man, I am dying, 
remember, burial masses " 

The monk fell back with a gasp. The death-rattle was in 
his throat. 

Eckhardt knelt by his side, raised his head and tried to stem 
the fleeting tide of life. 

" His name ! His name ! " he shrieked, mad with fear, 
anguish and despair. " His name ! Oh God, let him live but 
long enough for that, his name ? " 

It was too late. 

The spark of life had gone out. The murderer of Gregory 
stood before a higher bar of judgment. 

There was a long silence in the rock caves under the Ge- 
monian Stairs. Nothing was to be heard, save the hard breath 
ing of the despairing man. He saw it all now, all, but the 
instigator, the abettor of the terrible crime against him. If 
Ginevra was indeed the last link in that long chain of infamy, 
which had held its high revels in Castel San Angelo during the 
past decades, she could never hope to come into her own with 
out some potent ally. The thought lay very near, that she 
might be intriguing in this very hour to regain the lost power 
of Marozia. But a second consideration at least staggered this 
theory. It rather seemed as if the man on whom she had relied 
for the realization of her terrible ambition had deceived her, 
after he had made her his own, or had in some way failed 
to keep his pledge, until, in the endeavour to find the sup 
port she required, she had sunk from the arms of one into 
those of another. 

A wild shriek resounded through the cavern. 

Eckhardt trembled at the sound of his own despair. 

Like a caged, wild beast he paced up and down in the dark 
ness. 

268 



BEYOND THE GRAVE 

The torch had fallen from his grasp and continued to glimmer 
on the sand. 

Had it lain within his power he would have shaken down 
the mighty rock over his head and buried himself with the 
hapless victim chained to the stone. 

In vain he tried to order his chaotic thoughts. 

Monstrous deception she had practised upon him! 

All her endearments, all her caresses, her kisses, her whisper 
ings of love, were they but the threads of the one vast fabric 
of a lie ? 

It seemed too monstrous to be true ; it seemed too monstrous 
to grasp! 

And all for what ? 

The fleeting phantom of dominion, which must vanish as 
it came unsatisfied. 

How long he remained thus, he knew not. His torch had 
well nigh burnt down when at length he roused himself from 
his deadly stupor. Groping his way to the entrance of the 
cave, he stepped into the open. 

Like one dazed he returned to his palace. 

But he could not sleep. 

Profound were the emotions, which were awakened hi his 
bosom, as he set foot within his chamber. Scenes of other 
days arose before him with the vividness of reality. He beheld 
himself again hi the full vigour of manhood, ardent, impas 
sioned, blessed with the hand of the woman he loved and 
anticipating a cloudless future. He beheld her as she was 
when he first called her his own, young, proud, beautiful. 
Her accents were those of endearment, her looks tenderness 
and love. They smote him now like a poniard s point driven 
to his very heart. He did not think he could have borne a 
pang so keen and live. 

Why, he asked in despair could not the past be re 
called or for ever cancelled ? Why could not men live their 

269 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

loves over again, to repair, what they might have omitted, 
neglected and regain their lost happiness ? 

Pressing his hands before his eyes, he tried to shut out the 
beautiful, agonizing vision. 

It could not be excluded. 

Staggering towards a chair, he sank upon it, a prey to 
unbearable anguish. Avenging furies beset him and lashed 
him with whips of steel. 

He could not rest. He strode about the room. He even 
thought of quitting the house, denouncing himself as a mad 
man for having come here at all. But where was he to go ? 
He must endure the tortures. Perhaps they would subside. 
Little hope of it. 

He walked to the fire-place. The air of autumn was chill 
without. The embers, still glowing with a crimson reflection, 
had sunk in the grate. Aye there he stood, where he had 
stood years ago, and oh, how unlike his former self! How 
different in feeling! Then he had some youth left, at least, 
and hope. Now he was crushed by the weight of a mystery 
which haunted him night and day. Could he but quit Rome ! 
Could he but induce the king to return beyond the Alps. 
Little doubt, that under the immense gray sky, which formed 
so fitting a cupola for his grief, his soul might find rest. Here, 
with the feverish pulses of life beating madly round him, here, 
vegetating without purpose, without aim, he felt he would 
eventually go mad. He had inhaled the poison of the poppy- 
flower: he was doomed. 

Eckhardt did not attempt to court repose. Sleep was out of 
the question in his present wrought-up state of mind. Then 
wherefore seek his couch until he was calmer ? 

Calmer ! 

Could he ever be calm again, till his brain had ceased to 
work and his heart to beat ? Should he ever know profound 
repose until he slept the sleep of death ? 

270 



BEYOND THE GRAVE 

Yet what was to insure him rest even within the tomb ? 
Might he not encounter her in the beyond, a thing apart 
from him through all eternity ? During the brief period while 
he had cherished the thought of disappearing from the world 
for ever, he had pondered over many problems, which neither 
monk nor philosophers had been able to solve. 

Could we but know what would be our lot after death ! 

There was a time, when he had rebelled against the thought 
that our footsteps are filled up and obliterated, as we pass on, 
like in a quicksand. 

There was a time, he could not bear to think, that yesterday 
was indeed banished and gone for ever, that a to-morrow 
must come of black and endless night. 

And now he craved for nothing more than annihilation, 
complete unrelenting annihilation. He knew not what he 
believed. He knew not what he doubted. He knew not what 
he denied. 

He was on the verge of madness. 

And the devil was busy in his heart, suggesting a solution 
he had hitherto shunned. The thought filled him with dread, 
tossing him to and fro on a tempestuous sea of doubt and yet 
pointing to no other refuge from black despair. 

He strove to resist the dread suggestion, but it grew 
upon him with fearful force and soon bore down all oppo 
sition. 

If all else failed why not leap over the dark abyss ? 

A dreadful calm succeeded his agitation. It was vain to 
puzzle his brain with a solution of the problem which con 
fronted him, a problem which mocked to scorn his efforts and 
his prayers. 

He closed his eyes, vainly groping for an escape from the 
dreadful labyrinth of doubt, and sinking deeper and deeper into 
rumination. Nature at last asserted her rights, and he fell 
into fitful, uneasy slumbers, in which all the misery of his life 

271 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

seemed to sweep afresh through his heart and to uproot the 
remotest depths of his tortured soul. 

When Eckhardt woke from his stupor, the gray dawn was 
breaking. As he started up, a face which had appeared against 
the window quickly vanished. Was it but part of his dream 
or had he seen Benilo, the Chamberlain ? 



272 



CHAPTER VII 



ARA COELI 




T was not till late that night, 
that Otto found himself alone. 
He had at last withdrawn from 
the maddening revelry. Silence 
was falling on the streets of 
Rome and the dimness of mid 
night upon the sky, through 
which blazing meteors had torn 
their brilliant furrows. After 
dismissing his attendants, the 
son of Theophano sat alone in the lonely chamber of his palace 
on the Aventine. A sense of death-like desolation had come 
over him. Never had the palace seemed so vast and so silent. 
And he he, the lord of it all he had no loving heart to 
turn to, no one, that understood him with a woman s intuition. 
The waves of destiny seemed to close over him and the circum 
stances of his past rose poignant and vivid before his fading 
sight. 

But uppermost in his soul was the certainty that he could 
not further behold Stephania with impunity. When he re- 
recalled the meeting in the Minotaurus and the subsequent 
events of the evening, he lost all peace of mind. What then 
would be the result of a new meeting ? What would become 
of him, should he thereafter find himself unable to contain his 
passion in darkness and in silence ? Would he exhibit to the 
world the ridiculous spectacle of an insane lover, or would he, 
by some unheedful action, bring down upon himself the dis- 

273 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

dainful pity of the woman, unable as he was to resist the 
vertigo of her fascination ? 

He gazed out into the moonlit night. The ancient monu 
ments stood out mournful and deserted as a line of tombs. 
The city seemed a graveyard, and himself but a disembodied 
ghost of the dead past. 

Gradually the hour laid its tranquillizing hush upon him. 
By degrees, with the dim light of the candles, he grew drowsy. 
His mental images became more and more indistinct, and he 
gradually drifted away into the land of dreams. After a time 
he was awakened by a light that shone upon his face. Starting 
up, Otto was for a moment overcome by a strange sensation 
of faintness, which vanished as he gazed into the face of 
Benilo, whom his anxiety had carried to the side of the King 
after having hi vain searched for him among the late revellers 
on the Capitoline hill. 

Otto smiled at the expression of anxiety in the Roman s face. 

" Twas naught, save that I was weary," he replied to 
Benilo s concerned inquiry. " Tis many a week since we 
revelled so late. But perchance you had best leave me now, 
that I may rest." 

Benilo withdrew and Otto fell into a fitful slumber filled 
with hazy visions, in which the persons of Crescentius and 
Stephania were strangely mingled, melting rapidly from one 
into the other. 

He slept later than usual on the following day. When the 
shadows of evening began to fall over the undulating expanse 
of the Roman Campagna, Otto left the palace on the Aventine 
by a postern gate. This hour he wished to be free from all 
affairs of state, from all intrusions and cares. This hour he 
wished fitly to prepare himself for the great work of his life. 
In the dreamy solitude he would question his own heart as to 
his future course with regard to Stephania. 

The evening was serene and fair. The brick skeletons of 

274 



ARA COELI 

arches, vaults and walls glowed fiery in the rays of the sinking 
sun. Among olives and acanthus was heard the bleating of 
sheep and the chirrup of the grasshopper. 

Otto descended the tangled foot-path on the northern slope of 
the Aventine, not far from the gardens of Capranica, and soon 
reached the foot of the Capitoline hill, the ruins of the temple 
of Saturnus, the place where in the days of glory had stood the 
ancient Forum. From the arch of Septimius Severus as far as 
the Flavian Amphitheatre the Via Sacra was flanked with 
wretched hovels. Their foundations were formed of fragments 
of statues, of the limbs and torsos of Olympian gods. For 
centuries the Forum had been a quarry. Christian churches 
languished on the ruins of pagan shrines. Still lofty columns 
soared upward through the desolation, carrying sculptured 
architraves, last traces of a vanished art. Here a feudal 
tower leaned against the arch of Titus; beside it a tavern 
befouled the fallen columns, the marble slabs, the half defaced 
inscription. Behind it rose the arch, white and pure, less 
shattered than the remaining monuments. The sunlight 
streaming through it from the direction of the Capitol lighted 
up the bas-relief of the Emperor s triumph, the malodorous 
curls of smoke from the tavern appearing like clouds of incense. 

Otto s heart beat fast as, turning once more into the Forum, 
he heard the dreary jangling of bells from the old church of 
Santa Maria Liberatrice, sounding the Angelus. It seemed to 
him like a dirge over the fallen greatness of Rome. Half 
unconsciously he directed his steps toward the Coliseum. 
Seating himself on the broken steps of the Amphitheatre, he 
gazed up at the blue heavens, shining through the gaps in the 
Coliseum walls. 

Sudden flushes of crimson flamed up in the western horizon. 
Slowly the sun was sinking to rest. A pale yellow moon had 
sailed up from behind the stupendous arches of Constantine s 
Basilica, severing with her disk a bed of clouds, transparent 

275 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

and delicately tinted as sea-shells. The three columns hi front 
of Santa Maria Liberatrice shone like phantoms hi the waning 
light of evening. And the bell sounding the Christian Angelus 
seemed more than ever like a dirge over the forgotten Rome 
of the past. 

Wrapt hi deep reveries, Otto continued upon his way. He 
had lost all sense of life and reality. It was one of those 
moments when time and the world seem to stand still, drifting 
away on those delicate imperceptible lines that lie between 
reality and dream-land. And the solitary rambler gave him 
self up to the half painful, half delicious sense of being drawn 
in, absorbed and lost hi infinite imaginings, when the intense 
stillness around him was broken by the peals of distant con 
vent bells, ringing with silvery clearness through the evening 
calm. 

Suddenly Otto paused, all his life-blood rushing to his heart. 

At the lofty flight of stairs, by which the descent is made 
from Ara Coeli, stood Stephania. 

She had come out of the venerable church, filled with the 
devout impressions of the mass just recited. The chant still 
rang in her ears as she passed down the long line of uneven 
pillars, which we see to-day, and across the sculptured tombs 
set in the pavement which the reverential tread of millions 
has worn to smooth indistinctness. Now the last rays of the 
sun flooded all about her, mellowing the tints of verdure and 
drooping foliage, and sof tening the outlines of the Alban hills. 

As she looked down she saw the German king and met his 
upturned gaze. For a moment she seemed to hesitate. The 
sunlight fell on her pale face and touched with fire the dark 
splendour of her hair. Slowly she descended the long flight 
of stairs. 

They faced each other in silence and Otto had leisure to 
steal a closer look at her. He was struck by the touch of awe 
which had suddenly come upon her beauty. Perhaps the 

276 



ARA COELI 

evening light spiritualized her pure and lofty countenance, 
for as Otto looked upon her it seemed to him that she was 
transformed into a being beyond earthly contact and his heart 
sank with a sense of her remoteness. 

Timidly he lifted her hand and pressed his lips upon it. 

Silence intervened, a silence freighted with the weight of 
suspended destinies. There was indeed more to be felt between 
them, than to be said. But what mattered it, so the hour was 
theirs ? The narrow kingdom of to-day is better worth ruling 
than the widest sweep of past and future, but not more than 
once does man hold its fugitive sceptre. Otto felt the nearness 
of that penetrating sympathy, which is almost a gift of divina 
tion. The mere thought of her had seemed to fill the air with 
her presence. 

Steadily, searchingly, she gazed at the thoughtful and earnest 
countenance of Otto, then she spoke with a touch of domineer 
ing haughtiness: 

" Why are you here ? " 

He met her gaze eye in eye. 

" I was planning for the future of Rome, and dreaming 
of the past." 

She bent her proud head, partly in acknowledgment of his 
words, partly to conceal her own confusion. 

" The past is buried," she replied coldly, " and the future 
dark and uncertain." 

" And why may it not be mine, to revive that past ? " 

" No sunrise can revive that which has died in the sunset 
glow." 

" Then you too despair of Rome ever being more than a 
memory of her dead self ? " 

She looked at him amusedly. 

" I am living in the world not in a dream." 

Otto pointed to the Capitoline hill. 

" Yet see how beautiful it is, this Rome of the past! " he 

277 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

spoke with repressed enthusiasm. "Is it not worth braving 
the dangers of the avalanches that threaten to crush rider and 
horse even the wrath of your countrymen, who see in us 
but unbidden, unwelcome invaders ? Ah ! Little do they 
know the magic which draws us hither to their sunny shores 
from the gloom of our Northern forests! Little they 
know the transformation this land of flowers works on the 
frozen heart, that yearns for your glowing, sun-tinted 
vales!" 

" Why did you come to Rome ? " she questioned curtly. 
" To remind us of these trifles, and incidentally to dispossess 
us of our time-honoured rights and power ? " 

Otto shook his head. 

" I came not to Rome to deprive the Romans of their own, 
rather to restore to them what they have almost forgotten 
their glorious past." 

" It is useless to remind those who do not wish to be re 
minded," she replied. " The avalanche of centuries has long 
buried memory and ambition in those you are pleased to call 
Romans. Desist, I beg of you, to pursue a phantom which 
will for ever elude you, and return beyond the Alps to your 
native land ! " 

" And Stephania prefers this request ? " Otto faltered, 
turning pale. 

" Stephania the consort of the Senator of Rome." 

There was a pause. 

Through the overhanging branches glimmered the pale disk 
of the moon. A soft breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. 
There was a hushed breathlessness in the air. Fantastic, 
dream-like, light and shadows played on the majestic tide of 
the Tiber, and all over the high summits of the hills mysterious 
shapes, formed of purple and gray mists, rose up and crept 
softly downward, winding in and out the valleys, like wandering 
spirits, sent on some hidden, sorrowful errand. 

278 



ARA COELI 

Gazing up wistfully, Stephania saw the look of pain in Otto s 
face. 

" I ask what I have," she said softly, " because I know the 
temper of my countrymen." 

" What would you make of me ? " he replied. " On this 
alone my heart is set. Take it from me, I would drift an 
aimless barque on the tide of time." 

She shook her head but avoided his gaze. 

" You aim to accomplish the impossible. Crows do not 
feed on the living, and the dead do not rise again. Ah! How, 
if your miracle does not succeed ? " 

Otto drew himself up to his full height. 

" Gloria Victis, but before my doom, I shall prove worthy 
of myself." 

Suddenly a strange thought came over him. 

" Stephania," he faltered, " what do you want with 
me?" 

" I want you to be frankly my foe," exclaimed the beautiful 
wife of Crescentius. " You must not pass by like this, with 
out telling me that you are. You speak of a past. Sometimes 
I think it were better, if there had been no past. Better burn 
a corpse than leave it unburied. All the friends of my dreams 
are here, their shades surround us, in their company one 
grows afraid as among the shroudless dead. It is impossible. 
You cannot mean the annihilation of the past, you cannot 
mean to be against Rome against me ! " 

Otto faced her, pale and silent, vainly striving to speak. 
He dared not trust himself. As he stepped back, she clutched 
his arm. 

" Tell me that you are my enemy," she said, with heart 
broken challenge in her voice. 

" Stephania! " 

" Tell me that you hate me." 

" Stephania why do you ask it ? " 

279 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" To justify my own ends," she replied. Then she covered 
her face with her hands. 

" Tell me all," she sobbed. " I must know all. Do 
you not feel how near we are? Are you indeed afraid to 
speak ? " 

She gazed at him with moist, glorious eyes. 

Striding up and down before the woman, Otto vainly groped 
for words. 

" Otto," she approached him gently, " do you believe in 
me?" 

" Can you ask ? " 

" Wholly ? " 

" What do you mean ? " 

" I thought, feared, that you suffered from the same 
malady as we Romans." 

" What malady ? " 

" Distrust." 

There was a pause. 

" The temple is beautiful in the moonlight," Stephania said 
at last. " They tell me you like relics of the olden time. Shall 
we go there ? " 

Otto s heart beat heavily as by her side he strode down the 
narrow path. They approached a little ruined temple, which 
ivy had invaded and overrun. Fragments lay about in the 
deep grass. A single column only remained standing and its 
lonely capital, clear cut as the petals of a lily, was outlined in 
clear silhouette against the limpid azure. 

At last he spoke with a voice low and unsteady. 

" Be not too hard on me, Stephania, for my love of the 
world that lies dead around us. I scarcely can explain it to 
you. The old simple things stir strange chords within me. 
I love the evening more than the morning, autumn better 
than spring. I love all that is fleeting, even the perfume of 
flowers that have faded, the pleasant melancholy, the golden 

280 



ARA COELI 

fairy-twilight. Remembrance has more power over my soul 
than hope." 

" Tell me more," Stephania whispered, her head leaning 
back against the column and a smile playing round her lips. 
"Tell me more. These are indeed strange sounds to my ear. 
I scarcely know if I understand them." 

He gazed upon her with burning eyes. 

" No no ! Why more empty dreams, that can never be? " 

She pointed hi silence to the entrance of the temple. 

Otto held out both hands, to assist her hi descending the 
sloping rock. She appeared nervous and uncertain of foot. 
Hurriedly and agitated, anxious to gain the entrance she 
slipped and nearly fell. In the next moment she was caught 
up in his arms and clasped passionately to his heart. 

"Stephania Stephania," he whispered, "I love you 
I love you! Away with every restraint! Let them slay me, 
if they will, by every death my falsehood deserves, but let 
it be here, here at your feet." 

Stephania trembled like an aspen in his strong embrace, 
and strove to release herself, but he pressed her more closely 
to him, scarcely knowing that he did so, but feeling that he 
held the world, life, happiness and salvation in this beautiful 
Roman. His brain was in a whirl; everything seemed blotted 
out, there was no universe, no existence, no ambition, 
nothing but love, love, love, beating through every 
fibre of his frame. 

The woman was very pale. 

Timidly she lifted her head. He gazed at her in speechless 
suspense; he saw as in a vision the pure radiance of her face, 
the star-like eyes shining more and more closely into his. 
Then came a touch, soft and sweet as a rose-leaf pressed against 
his lips and for one moment he remembered nothing. Like 
Paris of old, he was caught up hi a cloud of blinding gold, 
not knowing which was earth, which heaven. 

281 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

For a moment nothing was to be heard, save the hard 
breathing of these two, then Otto held Stephania off at an 
arm s length, gazing at her, his soul in his eyes. 

" You are more beautiful than the angels," he whispered. 

" The fallen angels," was her smiling reply. 

Then with a quick, spontaneous movement she flung her 
bare arms round his neck and drew him toward her. 

" And if I did come toward you to prophesy glory and the 
fulfilment of your dreams ? " she murmured, even as a 
sibyl. " You alone are alive among the dead ! What matters 
it to me that your love is hopeless, that our wings are seared ? 
My love is all for the rejected ! I love the proud and solitary 
eagle better than the stained vulture." 

He felt the fire of the strange insatiate kiss of her lips and 
reeled. It seemed as if the Goddess of Love in the translucence 
of the moon, had descended, embracing him, mocking to scorn 
the anguish that consumed his heart, but to vanish again in 
the lunar shadows. 

" Stephania " he murmured reeling, drunk with the 
sweetness of her lips. 

Never perhaps had the beautiful Roman bestowed on mortal 
man such a glance, as now beamed from her eyes upon the 
youth. The perfume of her hair intoxicated his senses. Her 
breath was on his cheek, her sweet lips scarce a hand s breath 
from his own. 

Had Lucifer, the prince of darkness, himself appeared at 
this moment, or Crescentius started up like a ghost from the 
gaping stone floor, Stephania could scarcely have changed 
as suddenly as she did, to the cold impassive rigidity of 
marble. Following the direction of her stony gaze, Otto 
beheld emerging as it were from the very rocks above him a 
dark face and mailed figure, which he recognized as Eckhardt s. 
Whether or not the Margrave was conscious of having thus 
unwittingly interrupted an interview, if he had seen, his 

282 



ARA COELI 

own instincts at once revealed to him the danger of his position. 
Eckhardt s countenance wore an expression of utter uncon 
cern, as he passed on and vanished hi the darkness. 

For a moment Otto and Stephania gazed after his retreating 
form. 

" He has seen nothing," Otto reassured her. 

" To-morrow," she replied, " we meet here again at the 
hour of the Angelus. And then," she added changing her 
tone to one of deepest tenderness, " I will test your love, - 
your constancy, your loyalty." 

They faced each other hi a dead silence. 

" Do not go," he faltered, extending his hands. 

She slowly placed her own hi them. It was a moment upon 
which hung the fate of two lives. Otto felt her weakness in 
her look, hi the touch of her hands, which shivered, as they 
lay in his, as captive birds. And the long smothered cry 
leaped forth from his heart : What was crown, life, glory 
without love! Why not throw it all away for a caress of 
that hand? What mattered all else ? 

But the woman became strong as he grew weak. 

" Go! " she said faintly. " Farewell, till to-morrow." 

He dropped her hands, his eyes hi hers. 

Giving one glance backward, where Eckhardt had dis 
appeared, Stephania first began to move with hesitating steps, 
then seized by an irresistible panic, she gathered up her trailing 
robe and ran precipitately up the steep path, her fleeting form 
soon disappearing in the moonlight. 

Otto remained another moment, then he too stepped out 
into the clear moonlit night. In silent rumination he continued 
his way toward the Aventine. 

Past and future seemed alike to have vanished for him. 
Time seemed to have come to a stand-still. 

Suddenly he imagined that a shadow stealthily crossed 
his path. He paused, turned but there was no one. 

283 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Calmly the stars looked down upon him from the azure 
vault of heaven. 

And like a spider in his web, Johannes Crescentius sat in 
Castel San Angelo. 



284 



CHAPTER VIII 




THE GOTHIC TOWER 

EEP quiet reigned in the city, 
when a man, enveloped in a 
mantle, whose dimly shadowed 
form was outlined against the 
massive, gray walls of Con- 
stan tine s Basilica glided slowly 
and cautiously from among the 
blocks of stone scattered round 
its foundations and advanced to 
the fountain which then formed 
the centre of the square, where the Obelisk now stands. There 
he stopped and, concealed by the obscurity of the night and the 
deeper shadows of the monument, glanced furtively about, as 
if to be sure that he was unobserved. Then drawing his sword, 
he struck three times upon the pavement, producing at each 
stroke light sparks from its point. This signal, for such it 
was, was forthwith answered. From the remote depths of the 
ruins the cry of the screech-owl was thrice in succession re 
peated, and, guided by the ringing sound, a second figure 
emerged from the weeds, which were in some places the height 
of a man. Obeying the signal of the first comer, the second, 
who was likewise enveloped in a mantle, silently joined him 
and together they proceeded half-way down the Borgo Vecchio, 
then turned to the right and entered a street, at the remote 
extremity of which there was a figure of the Madonna with its 
lamp. 

Onward they walked with rapid steps, traversed the Borgo 

285 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Santo Spirito and followed the street Delia Lingara to where it 
opens upon the church Regina Coeli. After having pursued 
their way for some time in silence they entered a narrow wind 
ing path, which conducted them through a deserted valley, the 
silence of which was only broken by the occasional hoot of an 
owl or the fitful flight of a bat. In the distance could be heard 
the splashing of water from the basin of a fountain, half 
obscured by vines and creepers, from which a thin, translucent 
stream was pouring and bubbling down the Pincian hillsides 
in the direction of Santa Trinita di Monte. 

They lost themselves hi a maze of narrow and little fre 
quented lanes, until at last they found themselves before a 
gray, castellated building, half cloister, half fortress, rising 
out of the solitudes of the Flaminian way, before which they 
stopped. Over the massive door were painted several skeletons 
in the crude fashion of the time, standing upright with mitres, 
sceptres and crowns upon their heads, holding falling scrolls, 
with faded inscriptions in their bony grasp. 

The one, who appeared to be the moving spirit of the two, 
knocked hi a peculiar manner at the heavy oaken door. After 
a wait of some duration they heard the creaking of hinges. 
Slowly the door swung inward and closed immediately behind 
them. They entered a gloomy passage. A number of owls, 
roused by the dim light from the lantern of the warden, began 
to fly screeching about, flapping their wings against the walls 
and uttering strange cries. After ascending three flights of 
stairs, preceded by the warden, whose appearance was as little 
inviting as his abode, they paused before a chamber, the door 
of which their guide had pushed open, remaining himself on 
the threshold, while his two visitors entered. 

" How is the girl ? " questioned the foremost in a whisper, 
to which the warden made whispered reply. 

Beckoning his companion to follow him, the stranger then 
passed into the room, which was dimly illumined by the 

286 



THE GOTHIC TOWER 

flickering light of a taper. Throwing off his mantle, Eckhardt 
surveyed with a degree of curiosity the apartment and its 
scanty furnishings. Nothing could be more dreary than the 
aspect of the place. The richly moulded ceiling was festooned 
with spiders webs and in some places had fallen in heaps upon 
the floor. The glories of Byzantine tapestry had long been 
obliterated by age and time. The squares of black and white 
marble with which the chamber was paved were loosened and 
quaked beneath the foot-steps and the wide and empty fire 
place yawned like the mouth of a cavern. 

Straining his gaze after the harper who was bending over 
a couch in a remote corner of the room, Eckhardt was about 
to join him when Hezilo approached him. 

" Would you like to see ? " he asked, his eyes full of tears. 

Eckhardt bowed gravely, and with gentle foot-steps they 
approached a bed hi the corner of the room, on which there 
reposed the figure of a girl, lying so still and motionless that 
she might have been an image of wax. Her luxurious brown 
hair was spread over the pillow and out of this frame the pinched 
white face with all its traces of past beauty looked out hi pitiful 
silence. One thin hand was turned palm downward on the 
coverlet, and as they approached the fingers began to work 
convulsively. 

Hezilo bent over her, and touched her brow with his lips. 

" Little one," he said, " do you sleep ? " 

The girl opened her sightless eyes, and a faint smile, that 
illumined her face, making it wondrously beautiful, passed over 
her countenance. 

" Not yet," she spoke so low that Eckhardt could scarcely 
catch the words, " but I shall sleep soon." 

He knew what she meant, for in her face was already that 
look which comes to those who are going away. Hezilo looked 
down upon her hi silence, but even as he did so a change for 
the worse seemed to come to the sick girl, and they became 

287 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

aware that the end had begun. He tried to force some wine 
between her lips, but she could not swallow, and now, instead 
of lying still, she continued tossing her head from side to side. 
Hezilo was undone. He could do nothing but stand at the head 
of the bed in mute despair, as he watched the parting soul of 
his child sob its way out. 

" Angiola Angiola do not leave me do not go from 
me ! " the harper cried in heart-rending anguish, kneeling down 
before the bed of the girl and taking her cold, clammy hands 
into his own. Impelled by a power he could not resist, Eckhardt 
knelt and tried to form some words to reach the Most High. 
But they would not come ; he could only feel them, and he rose 
again and took his stand by the dying girl. 

She now began to talk in a rambling manner and with that 
strength which comes at the point of death from somewhere; 
her voice was clear but with a metallic ring. What Eckhardt 
gathered from her broken words, was a story of trusting love, 
of infamous wrong, of dastardly crime. And the harper shook 
like a branch in the wind as the words came thick and fast from 
the lips of his dying child. After a while she became still 
so still, that they both thought she had passed away. But she 
revived on a sudden and called out : 

" Father, I cannot see, I am blind, stoop down and 
let me whisper " 

" I am here little one, close quite close to you ! " 

" Tell him, I forgive And you forgive him too 
promise ! " 

The harper pressed his lips to the damp forehead of his 
child but spoke no word. 

" It is bright again they are calling me Mother ! 
Hold me up I cannot breathe." 

Hezilo sank on his knees with his head between his hands, 
shaken by convulsive sobs, while Eckhardt wound his arm 
round the dying girl, and as he lifted her up the spirit passed. 

288 



THE GOTHIC TOWER 

In the room there was deep silence, broken only by the harper s 
heart-rending sobs. He staggered to his feet with despair in 
his face. 

"She said forgive!" he exclaimed with broken voice. 
" Man you have seen an angel die! " 

" Who is the author of her death ? " Eckhardt questioned, 
his hands so tightly clenched, that he almost drove the nails 
into his own flesh. 

If ever words changed the countenance of man, the Mar 
grave s question transformed the harper s grief into flaming 
wrath. 

" A devil, a fiend, who first outraged, then cast her forth 
blinded, to die like a reptile," he shrieked hi his mastering grief. 
" Surely God must have slept, while this was done ! " 

There was a breathless hush in the death-chamber. 

Hezilo was bending over the still face of his child. The dead 
girl lay with her hands crossed over her bosom, still as if cut 
out of marble and on her face was fixed a sad little smile. 

At last the harper arose. 

Staggering to the door he gave some whispered Instructions 
to the individual who seemed to fill the office of warden, then 
beckoned silently to Eckhardt to follow him and together they 
descended the narrow winding stairs. 

" I will return late have everything prepared," the harper 
at parting turned to the warden, who had preceded them with 
his lantern. The latter nodded gloomily, then he retraced 
his steps within, locking the door behind him. 

Under the nocturnal starlit sky, Eckhardt breathed more 
freely. For a time they proceeded in silence, which the Mar 
grave was loth to break. He had long recognized in the harper 
the mysterious messenger who in that never-to-be-forgotten 
night had conducted him to the groves of Theodora, and who 
he instinctively felt had been instrumental in saving his life. 
Something told him that the harper possessed the key to the 

289 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

terrible mystery he had in vain endeavoured to fathom, yet 
his thoughts reverted ever and ever to the scene in the tower 
and to the dead girl Angiola, and he dreaded to break into 
the harper s grief. 

They had arrived at the place of the Capitol. It was deserted. 
Not a human being was to be seen among the ruins, which the 
seven-hilled city still cloaked with her ancient mantle of glory. 
Dark and foreboding the colossal monument of the Egyptian 
lion rose out of the nocturnal gloom. The air was clear but 
chill, the starlight investing the gray and towering form of 
basalt with a more ghostly whiteness. At the sight of the dread 
memory from the mystic banks of the Nile, Eckhardt could not 
suppress a shudder; a strange oppression laid its benumbing 
hand upon him. 

Involuntarily he paused, plunged in gloomy and foreboding 
thoughts, when the touch of the harper s hand upon his 
shoulder caused him to start from his sombre reverie. 

Drawing the Margrave into the shadow of the pedestal, 
which supported the grim relic of antiquity, Hezilo at last 
broke the silence. He spoke slowly and with strained accents. 

" The scene you were permitted to witness this night has 
no doubt convinced you that I have a mission to perform in 
Rome. Our goal is the same, though we approach it from 
divergent points. They say man s fate is pre-ordained, ir 
revocable, unchangeable from the moment of his birth. 
A gloomy fantasy, yet not a baseless dream. By a 
strange succession of events the thread of our destiny has 
been interwoven, and the knowledge which you would acquire 
at any cost, it is hi my power to bestow." 

" Of this I felt convinced, since some strange chance brought 
us face to face," Eckhardt replied gloomily. 

" Twas something more than chance," replied the harper. 
" You too felt the compelling hand of Fate." 

" What of the awful likeness ? " Eckhardt burst forth, 

290 



THE GOTHIC TOWER 

hardly able to restrain himself at the maddening thought, and 
feeling instinctively that he should at last penetrate the web 
of lies, though ever so finely spun. 

The harper laid a warning finger on his lips. 

" You deemed her but Ginevra s counterfeit ? " 

" Ginevra! Ginevra! " Eckhardt, disregarding the harper s 
caution, exclaimed in his mastering agony. " What know you 
of her? Speak! Tell me all! What of her ? " 

" Silence ! " enjoined his companion. " How know we what 
these ruins conceal ? I guided you to the Groves at the woman s 
behest. What interest could she have in your destruction ? " 

Eckhardt was supporting himself against the pedestal of 
the Egyptian lion, listening as one dazed to the harper s words. 
Then he broke into a jarring laugh. 

" Which of us is mad ? " he cried. " Wherein did I offend 
the woman? She plied but the arts of her trade." 

" You are speaking of Ginevra," replied the harper. 

" Ginevra," growled Eckhardt, his hair bristling and his eyes 
flaming as those of an infuriated tiger while his fingers gripped 
the hilt of his dagger. 

" You are speaking of Ginevra ! " the harper repeated 
inexorably. 

With a moan Eckhardt s hands went to his head. His 
breast heaved ; his breath came and went in quick gasps. 

" I do not understand, I do not understand." 

" You made no attempt to revisit the Groves," said the 
harper. 

Eckhardt stroked his brow as if vainly endeavouring to 
recall the past. 

" I feared to succumb to her spell." 

" To that end you had been summoned." 

" I have since been warned. Yet it seemed too monstrous 
to be true." 

" Warned ? By whom ? " 

291 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Cyprianus, the monk ! " 

The harper s face turned livid. 

" No blacker wretch e er strode the streets of Rome. And 
he confessed ? " 

" A death-bed confession, that makes the devils laugh," 
Eckhardt replied, then he briefly related the circumstances 
which had led him into the deserted region of the Tarpeian Rock 
and his chance discovery of the monk, whose strange tale 
had been cut short by death. 

" He has walked long in death s shadow," said the harper. 
" Fate was too kind, too merciful to the slayer of Gregory." 

There was a brief pause, during which neither spoke. At 
last the harper broke the silence. 

" The hour of final reckoning is near, nearer than you 
dream, the hour when a fiend, a traitor must pay the penalty 
of his crimes, the hour which shall for ever more remove the 
shadow from your life. The task required of you is great; 
you may not approach it as long as a breath of doubt remains 
hi your heart. Only certainty can shape your unrelenting 
course. Had Ginevra a birth-mark ? " 

Eckhardt breathed hard. 

" The imprint of a raven-claw on her left arm below the 
shoulder." 

Hezilo nodded. A strange look had passed into his eyes. 

" There is a means to obtain the proof." 

" I am ready! " replied Eckhardt with quivering lips. 

" If you will swear on the hilt of this cross, to be guarded by 
my counsel, to let nothing induce you to reveal your identity, 
I will help you," said the harper. 

Eckhardt touched the proffered cross, nodding wearily. His 
heart was heavy to breaking, as the harper slowly outlined his 
plan. 

" The woman has been seized by a mortal dread of her 
betrayer, the man who wrecked her life and yours. No 

292 



THE GOTHIC TOWER 

questions now, this is neither the hour or the place ! In 
time you shall know, in time you shall be free to act ! Acting 
upon my counsel, she has bid me summon to her presence a 
sooth-sayer, one Dom Sabbat, who dwells in the gorge between 
Mounts Testaccio and Aventine. To him I am to carry these 
horoscopes and conduct him to the Groves on the third night 
before the full of the moon." 

The harper s voice sank to a whisper, while Eckhardt listened 
attentively, nodding repeatedly in gloomy silence. 

" On that night I shall await you in the shadows of the 
temple of Isis. There a boat will lie in waiting to convey us 
to the water stairs of her palace." 

The harper extended his hand, wrapping himself closer in 
his mantel. 

" The third night before the full of the moon! " he said. 
" Leave me now, I implore you, that I may care for my dead. 
Remember the time, the place, and your pledge ! " 

Eckhardt grasped the proffered hand and they parted. 

The harper strode away in the direction of the gorge below 
Mount Aventine, while Eckhardt, oppressed by strange fore 
bodings, shaped his course towards his own habitation on the 
Caelian Mount. 

Neither had seen two figures in black robes, that lingered in 
the shadows of the Lion of Basalt. 

No sooner had Eckhardt and Hezilo departed, than they 
slowly emerged, standing revealed in the star-light as Benilo 
and John of the Catacombs. For a moment they faced each 
other with meaning gestures, then they too strode off in the 
opposite directions, Benilo following the harper on his singular 
errand, while the bravo fastened himself to the heels of the 
Margrave, whom he accompanied like his own shadow, only 
relinquishing his pursuit when Eckhardt entered the gloomy 
portals of his palace. 



293 



CHAPTER IX 



THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 




HILE these events transpired in 
Rome, a feverish activity pre 
vailed in Castel San Angelo. In 
day time the huge mausoleum 
presented the same sullen and 
forbidding aspect as ever but 
without revealing a trace of the 
preparations, which were being 
pushed to a close within. Under 
cover of night the breaches had 
been repaired ; huge balistae and catapults had been placed in 
position on the ramparts, and the fortress had been rendered 
almost impregnable to assault, as in the time of Vitiges, the 
Goth. 

Events were swiftly approaching the fatal crisis. While 
Otto languished in the toils of Stephania, whose society became 
more and more indispensable to him, while with pernicious 
flattery Benilo closed the ear of the king to the cries of his 
German subjects and estranged him more and more from his 
leaders, his country, and his hosts, while Eckhardt vainly strove 
to arouse Otto to the perils lurking in his utter abandonment 
to Roman councillors and Roman polity, the Senator of Rome 
had introduced into Hadrian s tomb a sufficiently strong body 
of men, not only to withstand a siege, but to vanquish any 
force, however superior to his own, to frustrate any assault, 
however ably directed. While the German contingents re 
mained on Roman soil he dared not engage his enemy in 

294 



THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 

a last death-grapple for the supremacy over the Seven Hills, 
which Otto s war-worn veterans from the banks of the Elbe 
and Vistula had twice wrested from him. The final draw in 
the great game was at hand. On this day the envoys of the 
Electors would arrive in Rome to demand Otto s immediate 
return to his German crown-lands, whose eastern borders were 
sorely menaced by the ever recurring inroads of Poles and 
Magyars. In the event of Otto s refusing compliance with the 
Electoral mandate, Count Ludeger of the Palatinate was to 
relieve Eckhardt of his command and to lead the German 
contingents back across the Alps. 

But it was no part of the Senator s policy to permit Otto to 
return. For while there remained breath in the youth, Rome 
remained the Fata Morgana of his dreams, and Crescentius 
remained the vassal of Theophano s son. He could never 
hope to come into his own as long as the life of that boy-king 
overshadowed his own. Therefore every pressure must be 
brought to bear upon the headstrong youth, to defy the Elec 
toral mandate, to rebuff, to offend the Electoral envoys. Then, 
the great German host recalled, Eckhardt relieved of his com 
mand, Otto isolated in a hostile camp, Stephania should cry 
the watchword for his doom. The inconsiderable guard re 
maining would be easily vanquished and the son of Theo- 
phano, utterly abandoned and deserted, should fall an easy 
prey to the Senator s schemes, a welcome hostage in the dun 
geons of Castel San Angelo, for him to deal with according to 
the dictates of the hour. The task to urge Otto to this fatal 
step had been assigned to Benilo, but Crescentius was pre 
pared for all emergencies arising from any unforeseen turn of 
affairs. He had gone too far to recede. If now he quailed 
before the impending issue, the mighty avalanche he had 
started would hurl him to swift and certain doom. 

Since that fateful hour, when in a moment of unaccountable 
weakness Crescentius had listened to Benilo s serpent- wisdom, 

295 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

and had arrayed his own wife against the German King, the 
Senator of Rome had seen but little of Stephania. The prepara 
tions for the impending revolt of the Romans, hi whose fickle 
minds his emissaries found a fertile soil for the seed of treason 
and discontent, engaged him night and day. He seemed present 
at once on the ramparts, in the galleries and hi the vaults of 
his formidable keep. But when chance for a fleeting moment 
brought the Senator face to face with his consort, the mean 
ing-fraught smile on the lips of Stephania seemed to assure 
him that everything was going well. Otto was lost to the world. 
Heaven and earth seemed alike blotted out for him in her 
presence. Together they continued to stroll among the ruins, 
while Stephania poured strange tales into the youth s ear, 
tales which crept to his brain, like the songs of the Sirens that 
lure the mariner among the crimson flowers of their abode. 
And Eckhardt despised the Romans too heartily to fear them, 
and even therein he revealed the heel of Achilles. 

If the present day was gained, the Senator s diplomacy 
would carry victory from the field, and Benilo had well plied 
his subtle arts. Yet Crescentius was resolved to attend in 
person the audience of the envoys. He would with his own 
ears hear the King s reply to the Electors. If Benilo had played 
him false ? He hardly knew why a lingering suspicion of the 
Chamberlain crept into his mind at all. But he shook himself 
free of the thought, which had for a moment clouded the future 
with its sombre shadow. 

As the Senator of Rome hurriedly traversed the galleries of 
the vast mausoleum, he suddenly found himself face to face 
with Stephania. 

Her face was pale and her eyes revealed traces of tears. 

At the first words she uttered, Crescentius paused, surprise 
and gladness in his eyes. 

" We are well met, my lord," she said, after a brief greeting, 
an unwonted tremor vibrating hi her tones. " I have sought 

296 



THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 

you in vain all the morning. Release me from the task 
you have imposed upon me! I cannot go on! I am not 
further equal to it. It is a game unworthy of you or 
me!" 

The surprise at her words for a moment choked the Senator s 
utterance and almost struck him dumb. 

" Imposed upon ? " he replied. " I thought you had accepted 
the mission freely. Is the boy rebellious ? " 

" On the contrary! Were he so, perhaps I should not now 
prefer this request. He is but too pliant." 

" He has made your task an easy one," Crescentius nodded 
meaningly. 

" He has laid his whole soul bare to me; not athought therein, 
ever so remote, which I have not sounded. I can not stand 
before him. My brow is crimsoned with the flush of shame. 
He gave me truth for a lie, friendship for deceit. He de 
serves a better fate than the Senator of Rome has decreed for 
him." 

Crescentius breathed hard. 

" The weakness does you honour," he replied after a pause. 
" Perchance I should have spared you the task. I placed him 
in your hands, because I dared trust no one else. And now it 
is too late too late! " 

" It is not too late," replied Stephania. 

Crescentius pointed silently to the ramparts, where a score 
of men were placing a huge catapult in position. 

" It is not too late! " she repeated, her cheeks alternately 
flushing and paling. " To-day, my lord informed me, the King 
stands at the Rubicon. To-day he must choose, if it is to be 
Rome, if Aix-la-Chapelle. If he elects to return to the gray 
gloom of his northern skies, to the sombre twilight of his 
northern forests, let him go, my lord, let him go ! Much 
misery will be thereby averted, much heart-rending de 
spair! " 

297 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Crescentius had listened in silence to Stephania s pleading. 
There was a brief pause, during which only his heavy breathing 
was heard. 

" His choice is made," he replied at last hi a firm tone. 

" I do not understand you, my lord ! " 

The Senator regarded his wife with singularly fixed in- 
tentness. 

" The toils of the Siren Rome are too firm to be snapped 
asunder like a spider s web." 

She covered her face with her hands. Her breath came and 
went with quick, convulsive gasps. 

" It is shameful shameful " she sobbed. " Had I 
never lent myself to the unworthy task ! How could you con 
ceive it, my lord, how could you? But it was not your counsel ! 
May his right hand wither, who whispered the thought into 
your ear! " 

Crescentius winced. He felt ill at ease. 

"Is it so hard to play the confessor to yonder wingless 
cherub ? " he said with a forced smile. 

Stephania straightened herself to her full height. 

" When I undertook the shameless task, I believed the son 
of Theophano a tyrant, an oppressor, his hands stained with 
the best of Roman blood ! Such your lying Roman chroniclers 
had painted him. I gloried in the thought, to humble a bar 
barian, whose vain-glorious, boastful insolence meditated new 
outrages upon us Romans. Yet his is a purer, a loftier spirit, 
than is to be found hi all this Rome of yours! Were it not 
nobler to acknowledge him your liege, than to destroy him 
by woman s wiles and smiles ? " 

" I cannot answer you on these points," Crescentius spoke 
after a pause, during which the olive tints of his countenance 
had faded to ashen hues. " I regard those dreams, whose 
mock-halo has blinded you, in a different light. It is the 
wise man who rules the state, it is the dreamer who 

298 



THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 

dashes it to atoms. We have gone too far! I could not 
release you, even if I would! " 

Stephania breathed hard. Her hands were tightly clasped. 

" It can bring glory to neither you, nor Rome," she said in 
a pleading voice. " Let him depart in peace, my lord, and I 
will thank you to my dying hour! " 

" How know you he wishes to depart ? " 

" How know you he wishes to remain ? " 

" His destiny is Rome. Here he will live and here he 
will die ! " the Senator spoke with slow emphasis. " But we 
have not yet agreed upon the signal," he continued with cold 
and merciless voice. " After the departure of the envoys 
you will lead the King into his favourite haunts, the labyrinth 
of the Minotaurus, to the little temple of Neptune. There I 
will in person await him. When you see the gleam of spear- 
points in the thickets, you will wave your kerchief with the 
cry : For Rome and Crescentius. No harm shall befall the 
youth, unless he resist. He shall have honourable conduct 
to the guest chamber, prepared for him, below." 

And Crescentius pointed downward with the thumb of his 
right hand. 

Stephania s bosom rose and fell in quick respiration. 

" I am not accustomed to prefer a request and be denied," 
she said proudly, her face the pallor of death. " Is this your 
last word, my lord ? " 

Crescentius met her gaze unflinchingly. 

" It is my last," he replied. " Yet one choice remains with 
you : You may betray the King, or the Senator of 
Rome ! " 

He turned to go, but something whispered to him to stay. 
At that moment he despised himself for having imposed upon 
his wife a task, against which Stephania s loftier nature had re 
belled and he inwardly cursed the hour which had ripened the 
seed and him, who had sown it. Gazing after Stephania s 

299 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

retreating form, all the love he bore her surged up into 
his heart as he cried her name. 

Arrested by his voice, Stephania turned and paused for a 
moment swift as thought, but in that moment she seemed to 
read the very depths of his soul and the utter futility of further 
entreaty. Without a word she ascended the spiral stairway 
leading to the upper galleries and re-entered her own apart 
ments, while with long and wistful gaze Crescentius followed 
the vanishing form of his wife. 

And it seemed as if the Senator s prophecy was to be ful 
filled. At the reading of the Electoral manifesto, Otto had been 
seized with an uncontrollable fit of rage. He had torn the 
document to shreds and cast its fragments at the feet of the 
Bavarian duke, who acted as spokesman for his colleagues, 
the dukes of Thuringia, Saxony and Westphalia. Neither the 
arguments of the Electoral envoys, nor the violent denuncia 
tions of Eckhardt, who aired his hatred of Rome in language 
never before heard hi the presence of a sovereign, could stand 
before Benilo s eloquent pleading. On his knees the Chamber 
lain implored the King not to abandon Rome and his beloved 
Romans. Vainly the German dukes pointed to the dangers 
besetting the realm, vainly to the inadequate defences of the 
Eastern March. With a majesty far above his years, Otto 
declared his supreme will to make Rome the capital of the 
earth, and to restore the pristine majesty of the Holy Roman 
Empire. Rome was his destiny. Here he would live, and here 
he would die. Rome was pacified. He required no longer the 
presence of the army. Let Bavaria and Saxony defend their 
own boundaries as best they might; let the Count Palatine 
lead his veteran hosts across the Alps. He would remain. 
This his reply to the Electors. 

On the eve of that eventful day the German dukes departed, 
while the Count Palatine proceeded to Tivoli, to prepare the 

300 



THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 

great armament for their winter march across the Alps. It 
had come to pass as Crescentius had predicted. The die was 
cast. Rome, the Siren, had conquered. 

In the night following these events, Rome in her various 
quarters presented a strange aspect of secret activity. 

In the fortresses of the Cavalli and Caetani lights flitted to 
and fro through the gratings in the main court. Benilo, the 
Chamberlain, might be seen stealing from the postern gate. 
Towards the ruins of the Coliseum men whose dress bespoke 
them of the lowest rank, were seen creeping from lanes and 
alleys. From these ruins at a later hour, glided again the form 
of the Grand Chamberlain. Later yet, when a gray light 
is breaking in the east, the gates of Rome, by St. John Lateran, 
are open. Benilo is conversing with the Roman guard. The 
mountains are dim with a mournful and chilling haze when 
Benilo enters the palace on the Aventine. 



301 



CHAPTER X 




THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

HAKEN to the inmost depths of 
his soul by a storm of fore 
bodings, hope, fear and passion, 
Otto had shaken himself free 
from the throng of flattering 
friends and courtiers and had 
sought the solitude of his own 
chamber. He had dismissed the 
envoys of the Electors with the 
unalterable reply that he would 
not return to his gloomy Saxon-land. Let the Saxon dukes 
defend the borders of the realm, let them keep Poles and Slavs 
in check. His own destiny was Rome. Here he would live, 
and here he would die. Deeply offended, the German envoys 
had departed. The consequences might be far-reaching indeed. 
Tearing off his accoutrements and all insignia of office and 
rank, Otto flung himself on his couch in solitary seclusion. 
All had been against him, save Benilo. Benilo alone under 
stood him. Benilo alone encouraged the young king to follow 
out his destiny. Benilo alone had pointed out that the earth 
might be governed from the ancient seat of empire without 
detriment to any of the nations of the Holy Roman Empire. 
Benilo alone had demonstrated the necessity of Otto s presence 
in his chosen capital, whose heterogeneous elements would 
obey no lesser authority. 

Weary and torn by conflicting emotions he at last sank 
down before the image of Mary and prayed to the Mother of 

302 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

God to guide his steps in the dark wilderness in which he 
found himself entangled. Thus transported out of himself 
far beyond the vociferous pageant of that exhausting day, Otto 
gave himself with all the mystical fervour of his Hellenic 
nature to visions of the future. 

Thus the evening approached. Long before the hour ap 
pointed he slowly bent his steps towards the little temple of 
Neptune, crowning the olive-clad summits of Mount Aventine 
and overlooking the vale of Egeria and the meandering course 
of the Tiber. The clouds above, beautiful with changing 
sunset tints, mottled the broken surface of the river with hues 
of bronze and purple between the leaves of the creeping water- 
plants, which clogged the movement of the stream. On the 
river-bank the rushes were starred with iris and ranunculus. 

The sun was declining in the horizon. A solemn stillness, 
like the presage of some divine event, held the pulses of the 
universe. A soft rose crept into the shimmer of the 
water, cresting the summits of far off Soracte. The tran 
sient, many-tinted glories of the autumn sunset were reflected 
in opalescent lights on the waves of the Tiber, and swept the 
landscape hi one dazzling glow of gold and amber, strangely 
blending with the gold and russet of the autumn foliage. The 
floating smell of flowers invisible hovered on the air; a mystic 
yearning seemed to pervade all nature in that chill, melancholy 
odour, that puts men in mind of death. The soft masses of 
leaves decayed caused a brushing sound under the feet of the 
lonely rambler. 

Round him in the silent woods burnt the magnificent 
obsequies of departing summer. 

Fire-flies moved through the embalmed air, like the torches 
of unseen angels. The late roses exhaled their mystic odour, 
and silently like dead butterflies, here and there a wan leaf 
dropped from the branches. 

At every step the wood became more lonely. It was as un- 

303 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

troubled by any sound as an abandoned cemetery. Birds 
there were few, the shade of the laurel-grove being too dense 
and no song of theirs was heard. A grasshopper began his shrill 
cry, but quickly ceased, as if startled by its own voice. Insects 
alone were humming faintly hi a last slender ray of sunlight, 
but ventured not to quit its beam for the neighbouring gloom. 
Sometimes Otto trended his path along wider alleys bordered 
by titanic walls of weird cypress, casting dark shade as a 
moonless night. Here and there subterranean waters made the 
moss spongy. Streams ran everywhere, chill as melted snow, 
but silently, with no tinkling ripples, as if muted by the melan 
choly of the enchanted wood. Moss stifled the sound of the 
falling drops and they sank away like the tears of an unspoken 
love. 

For a moment Otto lingered among a tangle of elder-bushes. 
The oblique sun rays filtering through the dense laurel became 
almost lunar, as if seen through the smoke of a funeral torch. 

Along the edge of the road goats were contentedly browsing 
and a rugged sun-burnt little lad with large black eyes was 
driving a flock of geese. Storm clouds lined with gold were 
rising in the North over the unseen Alps, and high up hi the 
clear sky there burned a single star. 

Deep hi thought, Otto passed the walls of the cloisters of 
St. Cosmas. 

Onward he walked as hi the memory of a dream. 

Through the purple silence came faintly the chant of the 
monks : 

" Fac me plagis vulnerari 
Fac me cruce inebriari 
Ob amorem Filii." 

At last the Ionic marble columns, softly steeped hi the warmth 
of departing day, came into sight. Silence and coolness en 
compassed him. The setting sun still cast his glimmer on the 
capitals of the columns whose fine, illumined scroll work, 

304 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

contrasted with the penumbral shadows of the interior, seemed 
soft and bright as tresses of gold. 

A hand softly touched Otto s shoulder. A voice whispered: 

" If you would know all come ! Come and I will tell you 
the secret which never yet I have uttered to mortal man." 

In the departing light, veiled by the thick cypresses and pale 
as the moon-beams, just as in the Egerian wilderness in the 
whiteness of summer-lightnings, she put her face close to his, 
her face white as marble, with its scarlet lips, its witch-like 
eyes. 

On they walked in silence, hand in hand. 

On they walked along the verge of a precipice, where none 
have walked before, resisting the vertigo and the fatal attraction 
of the abyss. If they should prove unequal to the strain, 
overstep the magic circle ? 

Stephania was pale and trembled. She smiled, but the 
smile troubled him, he scarce knew why. He tried to think 
it was the melancholy, caused by the wild and stormy look of 
the sunset and the loud cawing of the hereditary rooks, which 
seemed to croak an everlasting farewell to life and hope in the 
oaks of the convent. 

Must he repulse the love that surged up to him in resistless 
waves ? 

Must he renounce the near for the far-away, the ideal, 
whose embodiment she was, for the commonplace ? 

Slowly the sun sank to rest in a sea of crimson and gold, 
a fiery funeral of foliage and flowers. 

A clock boomed from a neighbouring tower. The heavy 
measured clang vibrated long through the stillness, quivering 
in the air, like a warning knell of fate. 

Softly she drew him into the dusk of the pagan temple, drew 
him down beside her on one of the scattered fragments of 
antiquity, a dog-eared God of black Syenite from Egypt, which 
had shared the fate of its Latin equals. 

305 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

But he could not sit beside her. 

Abruptly he rose; standing before her, the passion of the 
long fight surged up in him. Stephania sat motionless, and 
for a time neither spoke. 

At last Otto broke the silence. His voice was strained as if 
he were suffering some great pain. 

" I have come ! " he said. " I have cut every bridge between 
present and past! I am here. Have you thought of my 
appeal ? " 

" Oh, why do you torture me ? " she replied half sobbing, 
" I venture to ask for a delay, and you arraign me as though I 
stood at the bar of judgment." 

" It is our day of judgment," he replied. " It is the day 
when life confronts us with our own deeds, when we must 
answer for them, when we must justify them. For if we are 
but triflers, we cannot stand in the face either of heaven or of 
hell!" 

He bent down and took her hands in his. 

" Stephania," he said, " I too have doubted, I too have 
wavered : give me but one word of assurance, my love 
for you is a wound which no eternity can cure." 

She broke from him, to hide her weeping. 

" Have you thought of the forfeit ? " she faltered after a 
time. 

" I would not forego the doom ! - You alone are my light 
in this dark country of the world. Do not stifle the voice in 
your heart with reasons " 

" Reasons! Reasons! " she interrupted. " What does the 
heart know of reasons! Mine has long forgotten their plead 
ings else, were I here ? " 

Something in her voice and gesture was like a lightning 
flash over a dark landscape. In an instant he saw the pit at 
his feet. 

" What then," he faltered, " is this to lead to ? " 

306 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

" Some one has been with you," she said quickly. " These 
words were not yours." 

He rallied with a faint smile. 

" A pretext for not heeding them." 

" Eckhardt has been with you ! He has maligned me to 
you! " 

" He has warned me against you! " 

She turned very pale. 

" And you heeded ? " 

" I am here, Stephania! " 

The subtle perfume clinging to her gown mounted to his 
brain, choking back reason and resistance. 

" Yet again I ask you, what is this to lead to ? I am afraid 
of the future as a child of the dark! " 

She held his hands tightly clasped. 

"Oh! " she sobbed, "why will you torture me? I have 
borne much for our love s sake but to answer you now is to 
relive it and I lack the strength." 

He held her hands fast, his eyes hi hers. 

" No, Stephania," he said, " your strength never failed you 
when there was call on it, and our whole past calls on it now ! 
Eckhardt tells me that the Romans hate me, that they 
resent the love I bear them oh, if it were true ! " 

Stephania gazed at him with wide astonished eyes. 

" Ah! It is this then," she said with a sigh of relief. " A 
moment s thought must show you what passions are here at 
work. You must rise above such fears. As for us, no one 
can judge between us, but ourselves. Shake off these dread 
fancies! There lies but one goal before us. You pointed the 
way to it once. Surely you would not hold me back from it 
now ? " 

Gently she drew him down by her side. Through the crevices 
in the roof glimmered the evening star. 

She saw the conflict, which raged within him, the instinct 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

to break away from her, who could never more be his own. 
She saw the fear which bound him to her, she saw the great 
love he bore her, and she knew that he was hers soul and 
body, her instrument, her toy, her lover if she so willed. 

He spoke to her of his childhood in the bleak northern 
forests; of the black pines of Thuringia, of the snow-drifts, 
which froze his heart; of the sad sea horizons brooding in 
finitely away ; of the gloomy abbey of Merseburg, in the Saxon- 
land, where the great Emperor Otto, his grandsire, was 
sleeping towards the day of resurrection, where under the abbot s 
guidance he had first been initiated into the magic of a sunnier 
clime. He spoke to her of his Greek mother, the Empress 
Theophano, whose great beauty was only rivalled by her own, 
and of that eventful night, when he descended into the crypts 
of Aix-la-Chapelle and opened the tomb of Charlemagne, then 
dead almost two hundred years. He told her how he had 
fought against this mad, unreasoning love, which had at 
first sight of her crept into his heart, urging naught in pallia 
tion of his offence, but like a flagellant laying bare his tortured 
flesh to a self-inflicted scourge. He begged her to decide for 
him, to guide him, lonely antagonist of destiny dared he 
ask for more? She was the wife of the Senator of Rome. 

As he ceased speaking, Otto covered his face with his hands, 
but Stephania drew them down and held them firmly hi her 
own. Truly, if it was victory to accomplish the end, by drawing 
out a loving, confiding heart, the victory was with the van 
quished. And with the memory of the compact she had sealed 
a wondrous pity flashed through the woman s soul, a mighty 
longing, to lift the son of the Greek Princess up into joyous 
peace ! No thought of evil marred her pure desire, alas ! 
She knew not at that moment, that even in that pity lay his 
direst snare, and hers. 

The decisive moment was at hand. In the thickets before 
the temple her eye discerned the gleam of spear-points. For 

308 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

a moment a violent tremor passed through her body. She had 
hardly strength sufficient to maintain her presence of mind, 
and her face was pale as that of a corpse. 

Would she, a second Delilah, deliver Otto to her country 
men the Romans ? 

It was some time ere she felt sufficiently composed to speak. 
Her throat was dry and she seemed to choke. 

Otto remarked her discomfiture, far from guessing its cause. 

" I will fetch you some water," he said, starting up to leave 
the temple. 

Quick as lightning she had arisen, holding him back. 

" It is nothing," she whispered nervously. " Do not leave 
me!" 

And he obeyed. 

Stephania closed her eyes as if to exclude the sight of the 
spear-points. 

" Otto," she said softly, after a pause, for the first time 
calling him by his name, " I fear there is one great lesson you 
have never learned." 

" And what is this lesson ? " 

" That, what you are doing for the Romans might also be 
done for you ! Is there no heart to share your sorrow, to help 
you bear the pain of disappointment, which must come to you 
sooner or later ? You told me, you had never loved before we 
met " 

He nodded assent. 

" Never Never! " 

Ah ! Then you do not know. You seek for light, where the 
sun can never shine ! Striving for the highest ideals of man 
kind we can rise from the black depths of doubt but by one 
ladder, that of a woman s love ! " 

Again the dreadful doubt assailed him. 

" If you mean that, oh, do not speak of it, Stephania I 
The wound is already past healing." 

309 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

She bent towards him and rested her head upon his 
shoulders. 

" And yet I must, here and to you." 

"No no no ! " he muttered helplessly and turned 
away. The words of Eckhardt rushed and roared through his 
memory: " Once you are hers, no human power can save 
you from the abyss." 

But Eckhardt hated the Romans as one hates a scorpion, 
a basilisk. 

Stephania relinquished not her victim. He must be hers, 
body and soul, ere she shrieked the fatal word. - The warm 
blood hurtling through her veins quenched the last pitying 
spark. 

" Ah! " she said with a sigh. " You have never known the 
tenderness of a woman s smile, the touch of a woman s 
hand, her soft caress, the sound of her voice, that 
haunts you everywhere, waking, in your dreams " 

" Stephania! " he gasped, and rose as if to flee from her, 
but she held him back. 

" You have never known the ear that listens for your foot 
steps, the lips that meet your own hi a long, passionate 
kiss, the kiss that thrills and burns and maddens " 

" Stephania in mercy cease ! " 

Again he attempted to rise, again she drew him down. 

" You are not like other men Otto ! Will you always live 
so lonely, so companionless, with no one to love you 
with that lasting love, for which your whole soul cries out ? " 

Shivering he raised his arms as if to shut the sight of her 
from his dazzled gaze. Again, though fainter, Eckhardt s 
terrible warning knocked at the gates of his memory. But her 
purring voice with its low melodious roll, wooed his listening 
heart till the doors of reason tottered on their hinges. And 
the end what would be the end ? 

" Tell me no more," he gasped, " tell me no more ! I cannot 

310 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

listen! I dare not listen! You will destroy me! You will 
destroy us both! " 

Her lips parted in a smile, that fateful smile, which 
caused his soul to quake. Her fine nostrils quivered, as she 
bent towards him. 

" You cannot ? " she said. " You dare not ? Will you pass 
the cup un tasted, the cup that brims with the crimson joy of 
love ? Is there none in all the world to take you by the hand, 
to lead you home ? " 

With a cry half inarticulate he sprang toward her, his 
fierce words tumbling from delirious lips: 

" Yes, there is one, there is one, one who could 
lift me up till my soul should sing in heavenly bliss, one 
who could bring to me forgetfulness and peace, one who 
could change my state of exalted loneliness to a delirium of 
ecstasy, one who could lead me, wherever she would 
could I but lay my head on her breast, touch her lips, 
call her mine " 

Stephania stretched out her white, bare arms that made 
him dizzy. He stood before her quivering with hands pressed 
tightly against his throbbing temples. One moment only. 
Half risen from her seat, her eye on the gleaming spear-points 
in the thicket, she seemed to crouch towards him like some 
beautiful animal, then a half choked out cry broke from his 
lips, as their eyes looked hungrily into each others, and they 
were clasped in a tight embrace. Stephania s arms encircled 
Otto s neck and she pressed her lips on his in a long, fervid 
kiss, which thrilled the youth to the marrow of his bone. 

At that moment a curtain of matted vines, which divided 
the vestibule of the little temple from its inner chambers was 
half pushed aside by a massive arm, wrapped with scales of 
linked mail. Standing behind them, Crescentius witnessed the 
embrace and withdrew without a word. 

Was Stephania not overacting her part ? 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

He waited for the signal. 

No signal came. 

Then a terrible revelation burst upon the Senator s mind. 

Johannes Crescentius had lost the love of his wife. 

After a time the spear-points disappeared. 

The Senator of Rome saw his own danger and the forces 
arrayed against him. He was no longer dealing with statecraft. 
The weapon had been turned. With a smothered outcry of 
anguish he slowly retraced his steps. 

Neither had seen the silent witness of their embrace. 

Silence had ensued in the temple. 

Each could feel the tremor in the soul of the other. 

After a time Otto stumbled blindly into the open. Stephania 
remained alone hi rigid silence. 

In frozen horror she stared into the dusk. 

" The game is finished, I have won, oh, God forgive 
me God forgive me ! " she moaned. " Otto . . . Otto 
. . . Otto ..." 

" If you would know all, come at midnight to the church 
yard near Ponte Sisto," whispered a voice close by his side, as 
Crescentius staggered towards the Aelian bridge. 

He felt a hand upon his shoulder, turned, and saw, like 
some ill-omened ghost in the wintry twilight, a lean pale face 
staring into his own. 

In the darkness, under the dense shadows of the cypress- 
trees he could not distinguish the features of his companion, 
who wore the habit of a monk. 

But when Crescentius turned to reply, he was alone. 

" Christ too prayed a human prayer for a miracle : 
Father, let this cup pass from me! " he muttered, continuing 
upon his way. 

With eyes on the ground he strode along the narrow 
walk, skirting the Tiber, in whose turbid waves no stars 

312 



THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE 

were reflected. And scarce consciously he repeated to 
himself : 

" As like as a man and his own phantom, his own 
phantom." 

He passed the bridge and entered the mausoleum of the 
Flavian emperor. Rapidly he ascended to his own chamber. 

The candle was burning low. 

Up and down he paced hi the endeavour to order his thoughts. 
But no order would come hi to the chaotic confusion of his mind. 

What was the dominion of Rome to him now ? 

What the dominion of the Universe ? 

What devil in human shape had counselled the act hi the 
seeds of which slumbered his own destruction ? 

The flame of the dying candle flickered and grew dim. 

Had Stephania returned ? 

He heard no steps, no sound in her chamber. 

At the memory of what he had seen, a groan broke from 
his lips. 

How he hated that boy, who after wresting from him the 
dominion of the city, had stolen from him the love of his wife ! 

Stolen ? Had it not been thrust upon him ? What mortal 
could have resisted the temptation ? He would die thus 
it was written in the stars ; but Stephania would weep for 
him 

On tip-toe the Senator stole to the chamber of his wife. 
The door stood ajar. The chamber was empty. 

The candle flared up for the last time, lighting up the gloom. 
Then it sank down and went out. 

Crescentius was alone hi the darkness. 



313 



CHAPTER XI 



THE INCANTATION 




T was near the hour of midnight 
when a figure, muffled and con 
cealed in an ample mantle left 
Castel San Angelo. The guards 
on duty did not challenge it and 
after crossing the Aelian bridge, 
it traversed the deserted thor 
oughfares until it reached the 
Flaminian way, which it en 
tered. Avoiding the foot-path 
near the river, the figure moved stealthily along the farther 
side of the road, which, as far as could be discerned by the 
glimpses of the moon which occasionally shone forth from a 
bank of heavy clouds, was deserted. A few sounds arose from 
the banks of the river and there was now and then a splash in 
the water or a distant cry betokening some passing craft. 
Otherwise profound silence reigned. The low structures and 
wharfs on the opposite bank could be but imperfectly discerned, 
but the moonlight fell clear upon the mausoleum of Augustus 
and the adjacent church of St. Eufemia. The same glimmer 
also ran like a silver-belt across the stream and revealed the 
gloomy walls of the Septizonium. The world of habitations 
beyond this melancholy stronghold was buried in darkness. 

After crossing Ponte Sisto the muffled rambler entered a 
churchyard, which seemed to have been abandoned for ages. 
The moon was now shining brightly and silvered the massive 
square watchtowers, the battlements, and pinnacles with 



THE INCANTATION 

gorgeous tracery. Crescentius had hardly set foot on the moss- 
grown path, when two individuals wrapped in dark, flowing 
mantles, whose manner was as mysterious as their appearance, 
glided stealthily past him. 

They seemed not to have noticed his presence but pursued 
their way through the churchyard, creeping beneath the shadow 
of a wall in the direction of some low structure, which ap 
peared to be a charnel-house situated at its north-western 
extremity. Before this building grew a black and stunted 
yew-tree. Arrived at it, they paused to see whether they were 
observed. They did not notice the unbidden visitor, who had 
concealed himself behind a buttress. One of the two individuals 
who seemed bent by great age then unlocked the door of the 
charnel-house and brought out a pick-axe and a spade. Then 
both men proceeded some little distance from the building 
and began to shovel out the mould from a grass-grown grave. 

Determined to watch their proceeding, Crescentius crept 
towards the yew-tree, behind which he ensconced himself. 
The bent and decrepit one of the two meanwhile continued to 
ply his spade with a vigour that seemed incomprehensible in 
one so far stricken in years and of such infirm appearance. 
At length he paused, and kneeling within the shallow grave 
endeavoured to drag something from it. His assistant, appar 
ently younger and possessed of greater vigour, knelt to lend 
his aid. After some exertion they drew forth the corpse of 
a woman which had been interred without a coffin and ap 
parently in the habiliments worn during life. Then the two 
men raised the corpse, and conveyed it to the charnel-house. 
After having done so, one of them returned to the grave for 
the lantern and, upon returning, entered the building and 
closed and fastened the door behind him. 

Crescentius had chosen the moment when one of the two in 
dividuals left the lone house, to enter unobserved and to conceal 
himself in the shadows. What he had witnessed, had exer- 

315 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

cised a terrible fascination over him, and he was determined 
to see to an end the devilish rites about to be performed by 
the personage, in quest of whom he had come. The chamber 
in which he found himself was hi perfect keeping with the 
horrible ceremonial about to be performed. In one corner 
lay a mouldering heap of skulls, bones and other fragments 
of mortality; in the other a pile of broken coffins, emptied of 
their tenants and reared on end. But what chiefly attracted 
his attention, was a ghastly collection of human limbs black 
ened with pitch, girded round with iron hoops and hung like 
meat hi a shamble against the wall. There were two heads, 
and although the features were scarcely distinguishable owing 
to the liquid hi which they had been immersed, they still re 
tained a terrible expression of agony. These were the quarters 
of two priests recently executed for conspiracy against the 
Pontiff, which had been left there pending their final dis 
position. The implements of execution were scattered about 
and mixed with the tools of the sexton, while in the centre of 
the room stood a large wooden frame supported by rafters. 
On this frame, bespattered with blood and besmeared with 
pitch, the body was now placed. This done, the one who 
seemed to be the moving spirit of the two, placed the lantern 
beside it, and as the light fell upon its livid features, sullied 
with earth, and exhibiting traces of decay, Crescentius was so 
appalled by the sight, that he revealed his presence by a half 
suppressed outcry. Seeing the futility of further concealment, 
he stepped into the light of the lantern and was about to speak, 
when he heard the older address his assistant, neither of 
whom evinced the least surprise at his presence, while he 
pointed toward him: 

" Look ! It is the very face ! The bronzed and strongly 
marked features, the fierce gray eye the iron frame of 
the figure we beheld hi the show-stone I Thus he looked, as we 
tracked his perilous course." 



THE INCANTATION 

" You know me then ? " asked the intruder uneasily. 

" You are the Senator of Rome! " 

" You spoke of my perilous course ! How have you learned 
this ? " 

" By the art that reveals all things! And in proof that your 
thoughts are known to me, I will tell you the inquiry you 
would make before it is uttered. You came here to learn 
whether the enterprise hi which you are engaged will succeed." 

" Such was my intent," replied Crescentius. " From the 
reports about you, I will freely admit, I regarded you as an 
impostor! Now I am convinced that you are skilled in the 
occult science and would fain consult you on the future. 
What is the meaning of this ? " he continued pointing to the 
corpse before him. 

" I expected you! " was the conjurer s laconic reply. 

" How is that possible ? " exclaimed Crescentius. " It is 
only within the hour, that I conceived the thought, and only 
the events of this evening prompted it." 

" I know all ! " replied Dom Sabbat. " Yet I would caution 
you: beware, how you pry into the future. You may repent 
of your rashness, when it is too late." 

" I have no fear! Let me know the worst! " replied Cres 
centius. 

The conjurer pointed to the corpse. 

" That carcass having been placed in the ground without the 
holy rites of burial, I have power over it. As the witch of Endor 
called up Samuel, as is recorded in Holy Writ, as Erichtho 
raised up a corpse, to reveal to Sextus Pompejus the event of the 
Pharsalian war, as the dead maid was brought back to life 
by Appollonius of Thyana, so I, by certain powerful in 
cantations will lure the soul of this corpse for a short space 
into its former abode, and compel it to answer my questions. 
Dare you be present at the ceremony ? " 

" I dare ! " replied the Senator of Rome. 

317 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" So it be ! " replied Dom Sabbat. " You will need all your 
courage ! " and he extinguished the light. 

An awful silence ensued in the charnel-house, broken only 
by a low murmur from the conjurer who appeared to be 
reciting an incantation. As he proceeded, his tones became 
louder and his voice that of command. Suddenly he paused 
and seemed to await a response. But as none was 
made, greatly to the disappointment of Crescentius, whose 
curiosity, despite his fears, was raised to the highest pitch, 
cried : 

" Blood is wanting to complete the charm! " 

" If that be all, I will speedily supply the deficiency," replied 
the Senator, bared his left arm and, drawing his poniard, pricked 
it slightly with the point of the weapon. 

" I bleed now! " he cried. 

" Sprinkle the corpse with the blood," commanded Dom 
Sabbat. 

" The blood is flowing upon it ! " replied Crescentius with 
a shudder. 

Upon this the conjurer began to mutter an incantation in a 
louder and more authoritative tone than before. His assistant 
added his voice, and both joined in a sort of chorus, but in a 
jargon entirely unintelligible to the Senator. 

Suddenly a blue flame appeared above their heads, and slowly 
descending, settled upon the brow of the corpse, lighting up 
the sunken cavities of the eyes and the discoloured and distorted 
features. 

" She moves ! She moves ! " shouted the Senator frantically. 
11 She moves ! She is alive." 

" Be silent! " cried Dom Sabbat, "else mischief may ensue !" 

And again he started his incantation. 

" Down on your knees ! " he exclaimed at length with 
terrible voice. " The spirit is at hand." 

There was a rushing sound and a stream of white, dazzling 



THE INCANTATION 

light shot down upon the corpse, which emitted a hollow 
groan. In obedience to Dom Sabbat s demand Crescentius had 
prostrated himself on the ground, but he kept his gaze steadily 
fixed on the body, which, to his infinite amazement, slowly 
arose until it stood erect upon the frame. There it remained 
perfectly motionless, with the arms close to the sides and the 
habiliments torn and dishevelled. The blue light still retained 
its position upon the brow and communicated a horrible glim 
mer to the features. The spectacle was so dreadful, that 
Crescentius would have averted his eyes, but he was unable to 
do so. The conjurer and his familiar meanwhile continued 
their invocations, until, as it seemed to the Senator, the lips 
of the corpse moved and a voice of despair exclaimed : " Why 
have you called me ? " 

" To question you about the future ! " replied Dom Sabbat 
rising. 

" Speak and I will answer," replied the corpse. 

" Ask her, but be brief; her time is short," said Dom 
Sabbat, addressing the Senator. " Only as long as that flame 
burns, have I power over her! " 

" What is her name ? " questioned the Senator. 

"Marozia!" 

The Senator s hand went to his forehead; he tottered and 
almost fell. But he caught himself. 

" Spirit of Marozia," he cried, " if indeed thou standest 
before me, and some demon has not entered thy frame to 
delude me, by all that is holy, and by every blessed saint do 
I adjure thee to tell me, whether the scheme, on which I am 
now engaged for the glory of Rome, will prosper ? " 

" Thou art mistaken, Johannes Crescentius," returned the 
corpse. " Thy scheme is not for the glory of Rome ! " 

" I will not pause to argue this point," continued the Senator. 
" Will the end be successful ? " 

" The end will be death," replied the corpse. 

3 T 9 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" To the King or to myself ? " 

"To both!" 

" Ha ! " ejaculated Crescentius, breathing hard. ** To 
both!" 

" Proceed if you have more to ask, the flame is expiring," 
cried the conjurer. 

" And Stephania ? " But he could not utter the ques 
tion. He felt like one choking. 

But before the question was formed, the light vanished and 
a heavy sound was heard, as of the body falling on the frame. 

" It is over ! " said Dom Sabbat, 

" Can you not summon her again ? " asked Crescentius, 
in a tone of deep disappointment. " I must know that other." 

" Impossible," replied the conjurer. " The spirit has flown 
and cannot be recalled. We must commit the body to the 
earth!" 

" My curiosity is excited, not satisfied," said the Senator. 
" Would it were to occur again ! " 

" Thus it is ever," replied Dom Sabbat. " We seek to know 
that which is forbidden, and quench our thirst at a fount, 
which but inflames our curiosity the more. You have em 
barked on a perilous enterprise ; be warned, Senator of 
Rome! If you continue to pursue it, it will lead you to per 
dition." 

" I cannot retreat," replied Crescentius. " And I would 
not, if I could. Death to both of us : this at least is atone 
ment! " 

" I warn you again, if you persist, you are lost! " 

" Impossible, I cannot retreat; I could not, if I would! 
By no sophistry can I clear my conscience of the ties imposed 
upon it. I have sworn never to desist from the execution of 
this scheme, never never! And so resolved am I, that if 1 
stood alone in this very hour I would go on." 

" You stand alone ! " 

320 



THE INCANTATION 

No one knew whence the voice had come. The three stood 
appalled. 

A deep groan issued from the corpse. 

" For the last time, be warned ! " expostulated Dom 
Sabbat. 

" Come forth! " cried Crescentius rushing towards the door. 
" This place stifles me ! " And he unbolted the door and threw 
it wide open, stepping outside. 

The moon was shining brightly from a deep blue azure. 
Before him stood the old church of St. Damian bathed in the 
moonlight. The Senator gazed abstractedly at the venerable 
structure, then he re-entered the charnel-house, where he 
found the conjurer and his companion employed hi placing the 
body of the excommunicated denizen of Castel San Angelo 
into a coffin, which they had taken from a pile hi the corner. 
He immediately proffered his assistance and in a short space 
the task was completed. The coffin was then borne toward the 
grave, at the edge of which it was laid, while the Dom Sabbat 
mumbled a strange Requiem over the departed. 

This ended, it was laid into its shallow resting place, and 
speedily covered with earth. 

When all was ready for their departure, Dom Sabbat turned 
to the Senator of Rome, bidding him farewell. Declining the 
proffered gold, he observed : 

" If you are wise, my lord, you will profit by the awful warn 
ing you have this night received." 

" Who are you ? " the Senator questioned abruptly, trying 
to peer through the cowl which the adept of the black arts had 
drawn over his face, " since the devils obey your beck ? " 

The conjurer laughed a soundless laugh. 

" Of dominion over devils I am innocent since I rule no 
men ! " 

At the entrance of the churchyard, Crescentius parted from 
the conjurer and his associate, about whose personality he 

321 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

had not troubled himself, and returned in deep rumination to 
Castel San Angelo. 

No sooner had the Senator of Rome departed, than the 
conjurer s familiar tore the trappings from his person and 
stood revealed to his companion as Benilo, the Chamberlain. 

"Dog! Liar! Impostor," he hissed into Dom Sabbat s 
face, while kicking and buffeting him. " Marozia has been 
dead some fifty years. How dare you perpetrate this monstrous 
fraud ? Was it this I bade you tell the Senator of Rome ? " 

Dom Sabbat cringed before the blows and the flaming mad 
ness in the Chamberlain s eyes. Folding his arms over his 
chest and bending low he replied with feigned contrition : 

" It was not for me to compel the spirit s answer ! And as 
for the corpse, twas Marozia s. Thus read you the devil s 
favour. Until blessed by the holy rite, the body cannot return 
to its native dust." 

" Then it was Marozia s spirit we beheld ? " Benilo queried 
with a shudder, as they left the churchyard. 

" Marozia s spirit," replied Dom Sabbat. " Yet who would 
raise a fabric on the memory of a lie ? " 



322 



CHAPTER XII 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 




TEPHANIA S sleep had been 
broken and restless. She tossed 
and turned in her pillows and 
pushed back the hair from her 
fevered cheeks and throbbing 
temples in vain. It was weary 
work, to lie gazing with eyes 
wide open at the flickering 
shadows cast by the night-lamp 
on the opposite wall. It was 
stilJ less productive of sleep to shut them tight and to abandon 
herself to the visions thus evoked, which stood out hi life-like 
colours and refused to be dispelled. 

Do what she would to forget him, to conjure up some other 
object in her soul, there stood the son of Theophano, towering 
like a demi-god over the mean, effeminate throng of her 
countrymen. Her whole being had changed in the brief space 
of time, since first they had met face to face. Then the woman s 
heart, filled with implacable hatred of that imperial phantom, 
which had twice wrested the dominion of Rome from the 
Senator s iron grasp, filled with hatred of the unwelcome 
intruder, had given one great bound for joy at the certainty 
that he was hers, hers to deal with according to her desire, 
that he had not withstood the vertigo of her fateful beauty. 
With the first kiss she had imprinted on his lips, she had 
dedicated him to the Erynnies, it was not enough to van- 

323 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

quish, she must break his heart. Thus only would her victory 
be complete. 

What a terrible change had come over her now! All she 
possessed, all she called her own, she would gladly have given 
to undo what she had done. For the first time, as with the 
lightning s glare, the terrible chasm was revealed to her, at 
the brink of which she stood. Strange irony of fate! Slowly 
but surely she had felt the hatred of Otto vanish from her heart. 
He had bared his own before her, she had penetrated the 
remotest depths of his soul. She had read him as an open book. 
And as she revolved in her own mind the sordid aspirations of 
those she called her countrymen, the promptings of tyrants 
and oppressors, thrown in the scales against the pure and 
lofty ideals of the King, a flush of shame drove the pallor 
from her cheeks and caused hot tears of remorse to well up 
from the depths of her eyes. 

For the first time the whole enormity of what she had done, 
of the scheme to which she had lent herself, flashed upon her, 
and with it a wave of hot resentment rushed through her heart. 
Her own blind hate and the ever-present consciousness of the 
low estate to which the one-time powerful house of Crescentius 
had fallen, had prompted her to accept the trust, to commit 
the deed for which she despised herself. Would the youth, 
whom she was to lead the sure way to perdition, have chosen 
such means to attain his ends ? And what would he say to her 
at that fatal moment, when all his illusions would be shattered 
to atoms, his dreams destroyed and his heart broken ? Would 
he not curse her for ever having crossed his path ? Would he 
not tear the memory of the woman from his heart, who had 
trifled with its most sacred heavings ? He would die, but she ! 
She must live live beside the man for whom she had sinned, 
for whose personal ends she had spun this gigantic web of 
deception. Otto would die : he would not survive the shock 
of the revelation. His sensitive, finely-strung temperament was 

324 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

not proof against such unprecedented treachery. What the 
Senator s shafts and catapults had failed to achieve, the 
Senator s wife would have accomplished ! But the glory of the 
deed ? " Gloria Victis," he had said to her when she pointed the 
chances of defeat. " Gloria Victis " and she must live ! 

Otto loved her ; with a love so passionate and enduring 
that even death would mock at separation. They would 
belong to each other ever after. It was not theirs to choose. 
It seemed to her as if they had been destined for each other 
from the begin of time, as if their souls had been one, even 
before their birth. And all the trust reposed in her, all the love 
given to her how was she about to requite them? Were 
her countrymen worthy the terrible sacrifice ? Was Crescen- 
tius, her husband ? Had his rule ennobled him ? Had his 
rule ennobled the Romans ? Were the motives not purely 
personal ? 

She knew she had gone too far to recede. And even if she 
would, nothing could now save the German King. The 
avalanche which had been started could not be stopped. The 
forces arrayed against Teutonic rule now defied the control of 
him who had evoked them. How could she save the King ? 

Salvation for him lay only in immediate flight from Rome ! 
The very thought was madness. He would never consent. 
Not all his love for her could prompt a deed of cowardice. 
He would remain and perish, and his blood would be 
charged to her account in the book of final judgment. 

How long were these dreadful hours! They seemed never 
ending like eternity. A moan broke from Stephania s lips. 
She hid her burning face in her white arms. Oh, the misery 
of this fatal love! There was no resisting it, there was no 
renouncing it ; ever present in her soul, omnipotent in her 
heart, it would not even cease with death; yea, perhaps this 
was but the beginning. Would she survive the terrible hour 
of the final trial, when, a second Delilah, she called the Philis- 

325 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

tines down upon her trusting foe ? She moaned and tossed 
as in the agues of a fever and only towards the gray dawn of 
morning she fell into a fitful slumber. 

The preparations for his last rebellion against German rule 
had kept the Senator of Rome within the walls of the formidable 
keep, which since the days of Vitiges, the Goth, had defied 
every assault, no matter who the assailant. Crescentius had 
succeeded hi repairing the breaches in the walls and in strength 
ening the defences in a manner, which would cause every 
attempt to carry the mausoleum by storm to appear an under 
taking as mad as it was hopeless. He had augmented his 
Roman garrison, swelled by the men-at-arms of the Roman 
barons pledged to his support, by Greek auxiliaries, drawn from 
Torre del Grecco, and under his own personal supervision the 
final preparations were being pushed to a close. His activity 
was so strenuous that he appeared to be in the vaults and the 
upper galleries of Castel San Angelo at the same time. He had 
been seized with a restlessness which did not permit him to 
remain long on any one spot. But the terrible misgivings 
which filled his heart with drear forebodings, which, now it 
was too late to recede, caused him to tremble before the final 
issue, drove the Senator of Rome like a madman through the 
corridors of the huge mausoleum. Had he in truth lost the 
love of his wife ? Then indeed was the victory of the son of 
Theophano complete. He had robbed him of all, but life - 
a life whose last spark should ignite the funeral torches for 
the King and, if it must be for Rome. 

The day was fading fast, when Crescentius mounted the 
stairs which led to Stephania s apartments. His heart was 
heavy with fear. This hour must set matters right between 
them ; in this hour he must know the worst, and from 
her own lips. She would not fail him at the final issue, of 
that, as he knew her proud spirit, he was convinced. But 
what availed that final issue, if he had lost the one jewel 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

in his crown, without which the crown itself was idle 
mockery ? 

Stephania s apartments were deserted. Where was his 
wife ? She never used to leave the Castello without inf orming 
him of the goal of her journey. Times were uncertain and 
the precaution well justified. With loud voice the Senator of 
Rome called for Stephania s tirewoman. Receiving no im 
mediate reply, a terrible thought rushed through his head. 
Perhaps she was even now with him, with Otto ! In its 
undiminished vividness the scene at the Neptune temple arose 
before him. What availed it to rave and to moan and to 
shriek ? Was it not his own doing, rather the counsel of 
one who perhaps rejoiced hi his discomfiture ? Crescentius* 
hand went to his head. Was such black treachery conceiv 
able ? Could Benilo, but no ! Not even the fiend incarnate 
would hatch out such a plot, tossing on a burning pillow of 
anguish in sleepless midnight. 

He was about to retrace his steps below, when the individual 
desired, Stephania s tirewoman, appeared and informed the 
Senator that her mistress had but just left, to seek an interview 
with her confessor. A momentary sigh of relief came from the 
lips of Crescentius. His fears had perhaps been groundless, 
Still he felt the imperative necessity to obtain proof posi 
tive of her innocence or guilt. Thus only could his soul find 
rest. 

Stephania had gone to her confessor. Fate itself would 
never again throw such an opportunity in his way. And he 
made such good speed, that, when he came within sight of the 
ruins of the baths of Caracalla, he perceived by the advancing 
torches, which the guards accompanying her litter carried, 
that she had not yet reached her destination. 

Approaching closer, he saw them halt near the ruins and in 
a few moments a woman, wrapt in a dark mantilla, stepped 
from her litter, received by a bubbling, gesticulating monk, 

327 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

in whom the Senator immediately recognized Fra Biccocco, 
the companion of Nilus. Escorted by him, she walked hastily 
into the ruins, and was soon lost to sight in their intricate 
windings. 

Recalling the observations he had made on a previous 
visit, Crescentius wound his way from the rear to the same 
point, so that none of Stephania s retinue, who were laughing 
and chatting among themselves, discerned him or even dis 
covered his presence. Then he rapidly threaded his way to the 
chamber through which Fra Biccocco and Stephania had just 
passed, boldly followed them into the clearing, from which 
Nilus cell was reached, and concealed himself in the long grass 
until Biccocco returned from the hermit s cell. Then he ap 
proached the monk s hermitage and took up his post of ob 
servation in the shadows, out of sight but able to hear every 
word which would be exchanged between Nilus and his con 
fessor. 

The monk of Gaeta had been far from anticipating a visitor 
at this late hour. Seated at his stone table, he had been read 
ing some illuminated manuscript, when he suddenly laid down 
the scroll and listened. The perfect stillness of the deserted 
Aventine permitted some breathings of remote music from 
the distant groves of Theodora to strike his ear, and after 
listening for a time, he arose and traversed his cell with rapid 
steps. He was about to reseat himself and to continue his 
disquisition by the pale, flickering light of the candle burning 
before a crucifix, when voices were audible and Biccocco 
entered, having scarcely time to announce Stephania, ere she 
followed. 

" Good even, Father, be not startled, I was returning 
from my gardens of Egeria and I have brought your altar some 
of its choicest flowers," she said in a hushed and timid voice, 
while at the same time she offered the monk some beautiful 
white roses of a late bloom. " Moreover, I would speak a few 

328 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

words alone with you, alone with you, Father Biccocco, 
with your permission." 

Biccocco, looking at her, as she threw back her mantle from 
her shoulders, respectfully prepared to obey, almost wondering 
that there could be on earth anything so wondrously beautiful 
as this woman. 

" Biccocco, I command thee, stay ! " exclaimed Nilus 
starting up. "I would say nay, daughter is it thou ? I 
knew not at first, my sight is dim Biccocco, let no one 
trouble me but tears ? What ails our gentle penitent ? 
Has she forgotten a whole string of Aves ? Or what heavier 
offence ? It was but yesterday I counselled thee, but a 
few hours are so much to a woman. Wherefore glow thy 
cheeks with the fires of shame ? Biccocco leave us! " 

" Father, I have sinned yea, grievouly sinned hi these 
few hours, since I have seen thee," said Stephania, when the 
restraint of Biccocco s presence was removed, little suspecting 
what listener had succeeded. " I have sinned and I repent, 
but even hi my offence lies my greatest chastisement." 

" Art well assured, that it is remorse, and not regret ? " 
replied the hermit of Gaeta. " Thy sex often mistakes one for 
the other. But what is the matter ? Surely it might not pre 
vent thee from taking thy needful rest, might bide the light 
of day, to be told, to be listened to, yet thou art 
strangely pale ! " 

" I have been mad, father, crazed, I know not what I 
have done ! I dare not look upon thee, and tell thee ! Let me 
arrange my flowers in thy chalice, while I speak," replied 
Stephania, hiding her face in the fragrant bundle. 

" Not so ! " replied the monk. " Eye and gesture often 
confess more than the apologizing lip! Kneel hi thy wonted 
place ! No other attitude becomes thy dignity or mine ; for 
either thou kneelest to the servant of God or thou debasest 
thyself before the brother of man ! " 

329 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Stephania complied instantly, and Nilus, throwing himself 
back in his chair, fixed his eyes on the crucifix before him, 
without even glancing at the penitent. 

" Father you had warned me of all the ills that would 
befall," she began, almost inaudibly, " but I longed to see him 
at my feet, and more, much more ! " 

" What is all this ? " said the monk turning very pale and 
glancing at his fair penitent with a degree of fierceness mingled 
with surprise. 

"Ah! You know not what a woman feels, when 
when " She paused, breathing hard. 

" Hast thou then committed a deadly sin ? Some dark 
adultery of the soul ? " exclaimed Nilus. " Nay, daughter," 
he continued, as she shrank within herself at his words, " I 
speak too harshly now ! But what more hast to say ? Time 
wears and this soft cheek should be upon the down, or its 
sweetness will not bloom as freshly as some of its rivals, at 
dawn. Thou see st this hermitage, from which thou wouldst 
lure me, yields some recollections to brighten its desolation 
and gloom. What is it thou wouldst say ? " 

Stephania stared for a moment into the monk s face, at a 
loss to grasp his meaning. At last she stammered. 

" Yet I but intended to win him to some silly tryst, - 
wherein I intended to deride his boyish passions." 

" And he refused thy lures and thou art vexed to have escaped 
perdition ? " said the monk, more mildly. 

" Nay for he came ! " 

" He came ! Jest not in a matter like this ! He came ? 
Thou knowest of all mankind I have reasons to wish this youth 
well, this one at least! " said Nilus somewhat incoherently. 

" He came, once, twice, many times ! He came, 
I say, and " 

" What of him ? Thou hast not had him harmed for 
trusting his enemy ? " 

330 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

Stephania s cheek took the hues of marble. 

" Harmed ? I would rather perish myself than that he 
should come to harm." 

Nilus was silent for a moment or two, and Stephania, as if 
to take courage, timidly took his hand, holding it between her 
own. 

" I must needs avow my whole offence," she stammered, 
" he came, and 

" Why dost pause, daughter ? " questioned the monk, with 
penetrating look. 

" Nay but hear me ! " continued Stephania. " I first in 
tended but to win his confidence, then, having drawn 
him out expose him to the just laughter of my court." 

" A most womanly deed ! But where did this meeting take 
place ? " 

" In the Grottos of Egeria! " 

" In the Grottos of Egeria! " the monk repeated aghast. 

" And then," she continued with a great sadness in her 
tone, " I never felt so strangely mad, I would have him share 
some offence, to justify the clamour I had provided, scarcely 
I know how to believe it now myself. I did to his lips, 
what I now do to your hand." 

And she kissed the monk s yellow hand with timid reverence. 

" Thou! Thou! Stephania, the wife of Crescentius, and 
not yet set in the first line of the book of shame! " shouted the 
monk, convulsively starting at every word of his own climax. 
" Begone begone ! The vessel is full, even to overflowing ! - 
Tell me no more, tell me no more ! " 

" Your suspicion indeed shows me all my ignominy," said 
Stephania, groping for his hand, which he had snatched 
furiously away. " But he only suffered it, because he 
guessed not my intent in the darkness." 

" In the darkness ? " 

" In the darkness." 

331 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Deemest them it possible to clasp the plague and to evade 
the contagion ? " questioned the monk. " Woman, I com 
mand thee, stop! Stop ere the condemning angel closes the 
record ! " 

Stephania raised her head petulantly. 

" Monk, thou knowest not all! During all this meeting the 
Senator of Rome was present in the Grotto and watched us 
from one of the ivy hollows in the cave ! " 

" The Senator of Rome ! " exclaimed the monk with evident 
amazement. " How came he there ? " 

" By contrivance ! " 

" I do not understand ! " 

" It was at his behest that I have done the deed, to further 
his vast projects, call it his ambition, if you will to which 
the King is the stumbling block. Ask me no more, for I 
will not answer! " 

Nilus seemed struck dumb by the revelation. 

" Take comfort, daughter, he cannot, he cannot " 
whispered the monk, bending over her and speaking in so low 
a tone that the devouring listener could not distinguish one 
word. 

For a time not a word was to be heard, Nilus inclining his 
ear to Stephania s lips, whose confession was oft times broken 
by sobs. 

" Tell me all, all! " said the monk. 

" As the fatal hour approaches the strength begins to for 
sake me, I cannot do it ! " she groaned. 

" Yet he is the enemy of Rome, so you say," the monk 
said mockingly. 

" He is the friend of Rome and I love him ! " 

In a shriek the last words broke from her lips. 

" Domine an me reliquisti ! " shouted the monk. " Some 
sign now some sign or " 

His raving exclamation was cut short by a sound not unlike 

332 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

the oracle implored. A large block of stone, dislodged by a 
sudden and violent movement of the unseen listener, rolled 
with a hollow rumble down into the vaults below. 

The monk started up from the benediction which he was 
bending forward to pronounce, almost dashed Stephania 
away, rushed to his altar and casting himself prostrate before 
the divine symbol which adorned it, he muttered in a frantic 
ecstasy of devotion: 

" Gloria Domino ! Gloria in Excelsis ! Blessed be Thy 
name for ever and ever! Praise ye the Lord! He saves in 
the furnace of fire ! " 

Stephania gazed in mute amazement at the monk. His 
frantic appeal and its apparent fulfilment had struck dismay 
into her soul, and when at length he raised himself, and turned 
towards her, she could hardly find words to speak. 

But Nilus waved his hand. 

"Go now, Stephania," he commanded. "Go! I will 
devise some fitting penance at more leisure." 

" But, Father my request." 

" Ay, truly," he replied, with supreme melancholy. " Is 
it not the wont of the world to throw away the flower, when 
we have withered it with our evil breath ? " 

" But I cannot do it, I cannot do it," Stephania moaned, 
raising her hands imploringly to the monk. 

" It is for a mightier than Nilus to counsel," the monk 
spoke mournfully. " Thou standest on the brink of a preci 
pice, from which nothing but the direct intervention of Heaven 
can save thee ! Pray to the Immaculate One for enlightenment, 
and If the words of a monk have weight with thee, even against 
him, thou callest thy lord before the world, desist, ere 
thou art engulfed in the black abyss, which yawns at thy feet. 
When he is dead, it will be too late ! " 

And raising his lamp, to escort Stephania to her litter, the 
monk and the woman left the chamber, and Crescentius had 

333 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

barely time to conceal himself behind the boulders ere they 
appeared and passed by him, the monk anxiously guiding 
every step of his penitent. 

The moon was sinking, when Stephania arrived at Castel 
San Angelo. 

Taking the candle from the hands of the page, who had 
awaited her return with sleepy eyes, she dismissed him and 
passed into the lofty hall, dark and chill as a cellar, beyond 
which lay the Senator s, her husband s, apartments. She 
swiftly traversed the hall, then she hesitated. No doubt 
he was asleep. What good was there in waking him ? As 
she turned to retrace her steps to her own chamber, a strange 
and eerie gust of wind swept shrieking round the battlements, 
howled in the chimney, invaded the chamber with icy breath 
and almost extinguished the candle. Then there was a great 
hush. It seemed to her she could hear distant music from the 
Aventine, the murmur of voices, the sound of iron chains from 
the vaults below. To this, or to death, she had consigned 
the son of Theophano, the boy-king, who loved her. To 
this ? Anguish and terror seized her soul. She felt, she 
must not move must not look. There it stood, blacker 
than the investing darkness, its head bent, shrouded in 
the cowl of a monk. What was it ? Once before she had seen 
it, then it had faded away in the gloom. But misfortune 
rode invariably in its wake. She tried to scream, to call the 
page, but her voice choked in her throat. She staggered toward 
the door ; her limbs refused to support her ; groaning she 
covered her eyes. Otto down there, or dead, why had 
she never thought of it before ? Now the monk made a step 
toward her; the face had nothing corpse-like in it, nothing 
appalling, yet she felt a freezing and unearthly cold; almost 
faulting she staggered up the narrow winding stairs. And 
entering her lofty chamber Stephania fell unconscious upon 
her couch. 

334 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

After Crescentius had returned from the hermitage of Nilus, 
he gave strict orders to the guards of Castel San Angelo to 
admit no one, no matter who might crave an audience, and 
entering his own chamber, he lighted a candle. He had seen 
and heard, and he knew that the heart of his wife had gone from 
him for ever ! At the terrible certainty he grew dizzy. A fearful 
price he had paid for his perfidy, and now, there was no 
one in all the world he could trust. He dared not speak. He 
dared not even breathe his anguish. She must never know 
that he knew all, no one must know. His lips must be 
sealed. The world should never point at him, for this at 
least ! 

But terrible as his suffering must be his vengeance. He 
who had robbed him of his priceless gem, the wife of his 
soul, all he loved on earth, he should languish and rot 
under her very chambers, where she might nightly hear his 
groans, without daring to plead for him. There was no further 
time for parley. The stroke must fall at once ! Too long had he 
tarried. The Rubicon was passed. 

Pacing up and down the gloomy chamber, Crescentius 
paused before the sand-clock. It was near midnight. Yet 
sleep was far from caressing his aching lids, as far as balm 
from his aching heart. He raised the candle in an unconscious 
effort, to go to his wife s apartment. He lingered. Then he 
placed the candle down again and seated himself in a chair. 
His gaze fell upon a broad stain on the floor and like one 
fascinated he followed its least meander to a distance of several 
feet from the door, when suddenly a form met his eyes, whether 
the off -spring of his delirious fancy or one of those inexplicable 
and tremendous phenomena, which are incapable of human 
solution, while the secrets of death remain such. His garb 
was that of a monk; the face bore the awful pallor of 
the tomb, and a mournful tenderness seemed to struggle 
with the rigidity of death. The phantom, if such it was, 

335 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

stood perfectly motionless between Crescentius and the couch, 
in a few moments it grew indistinct and finally faded into 
air. 

It was then only, that Crescentius recovered breath and 
life, and staggered back to his chair. A few moments rally 
persuaded him that what he had seen had been merely the 
illusion of his excited organs. But a dreadful longing for 
death assailed him, a longing like that which prompts men 
to leap when they gaze down a precipice. He rose, again 
the phantom seemed there, this time distinct and clear. 
Terror rendered him motionless; the room seemed to whirl 
round, a million lights danced in his eyes, then he sank back 
covering his face with his hands. 

When he again opened his eyes, his brain seemed shooting 
with the keenest darts of pain. He endeavoured to pray, 
but could not. His ideas rushed confusedly through each 
other. The taper was fast sinking in the socket, and it seemed 
as if his mind would sink with it. He emptied a goblet of 
wine which stood upon the table, and strove to remember 
what he intended to do. It seemed a vain effort and he fell 
back hi his chair into a semi-conscious doze. An hour might 
have passed thus, when he became aware of a slight crackling 
noise in his ears and starting with a sensation of cold he looked 
round. The fire in the chimney had burnt into red embers, 
and though his own form was lost in the shadow of the chimney, 
the rest of the room was faintly illumined by the crimson 
glow from the grate. 

Suddenly he saw the tapestry figure of some mythical 
deity opposite his own seat stir; the tapestry swelled out, 
then a head appeared, which peered cautiously round. The 
body soon followed the head, and Crescentius rose with a sigh 
of relief as he stood face to face with Benilo. The Chamber 
lain s face was pale; his eyes, with their unsteady glow, 
showed traces of wakefulness. He took from his doublet a 

336 



THE HERMITAGE OF NILUS 

scroll which he placed into the outstretched hand of the Senator 
of Rome. Mechanically Crescentius unrolled it. His hands 
trembled as he superficially swept its contents. 

" The barons pledge their support, not a name is missing," 
Benilo broke the silence in hushed tones. 

" What is it to be ? " questioned Crescentius. 

" I speak for the extreme course and for Rome. For attack 
sudden and swift ! " 

There was a pause, Crescentius stared into the dying 
embers. 

" Are all your plans complete ? " 

" The Romans wait impatiently upon my words. At the 
signal all Rome will rise to arms! " 

" But how about the Romans ? Can they be depended 
upon ? " 

" I move them at the raising of my hand ! " 

There was another pause. 

Crescentius appeared strangely abstracted. 

" But what of Otto ? What of Eckhardt ? Do they scent 
the wind from Castel San Angelo ? " 

" As for the Saxon cherub," Benilo replied with a disgusting 
smile, " he is dreaming of his " 

He did not finish the sentence, for Crescentius cast such a 
terrible look upon him, that the blood froze in the traitor s 
veins, and his eyes sank before those blazing upon him. After 
a moment s hesitation he continued, the shadow of a forced 
smile hovering round his thin, quivering lips: 

" When he is dead, we shall cause the Wonder-child to be 
canonized ! " 

But Crescentius was in no jocular mood. 

" Have you chosen your men ? " he queried curtly. 

" They will be stationed in the labyrinth of the Minotaurus," 
Benilo replied. " At the signal agreed upon, they will rush 
forth and seize the King " 

337 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

As he spoke those words the Chamberlain gazed timidly into 
the Senator s face. 

" The signal will not fail," Crescentius replied firmly. 

" Is the mausoleum prepared to withstand an assault ? " 
Benilo questioned guardedly. 

" The hidden balistae have been disinterred. My Albanian 
stradiotes and the Romagnole guards occupy the chief 
approaches. The upper galleries are reserved for our Roman 
allies. They will never scale these walls while Crescentius 
lives. Remember the gates of Rome are to be closed. We 
will smother the Saxon under our caresses ! I must have Otto 
dead or alive! Revenge and Death are now written on my 
standards! Up with the flag of rebellion and perdition to the 
emperor and his hosts! " 

The gray dawn was peeping into the windows of the Senator s 
chamber, when Crescentius sought his couch for a brief and 
fitful repose. 



338 



CHAPTER XIII 




THE LION OF BASALT 

T was midnight of a dark and 
still evening on the Tiber and 
peace had for the most part 
descended upon the great city. 
The lamps hi the houses were 
extinguished and the challenges 
of the watch alone were now 
and then to be heard. The 
streets were deserted, for few 
ventured abroad after night 
fall. Sluggishly the turbid tide of the Tiber rolled towards 
ancient Portus. The moon was hidden behind heavy cloud- 
banks, and when now and then it pierced a rift hi the nebulous 
masses, it shed a spectral light over the silent hills, but to 
plunge them back into abysmal darkness. 

The bells from distant cloisters and convents were pealing 
the midnight hour when out of the gloom of the waters there 
passed a light skiff wherein were seated two men, closely 
wrapped in their long, dark cloaks. The one seated on the 
prow was bent almost double with age, and his long beard 
swept the bottom of the skiff. He appeared indifferent to his 
surroundings and stared straight before him into the darkness, 
while his companion, constantly on the alert, never seemed to 
take his eyes from the boatman who plied his oars in silence, 
causing the frail craft to descend the river with great swiftness. 
At last they made for the shore. An extensive mansion 
loomed out of the gloom, which seemed to be the goal of their 

339 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

journey. Obeying the whispered directions of the taller of 
his passengers, the boatman steered his craft under a dark 
archway, whence a flight of stairs led up to the door, of what 
appeared to be a garden pavilion. Swiftly the sculler shot under 
the arch and in another moment drew up by the stairs. 

Leaning heavily on the arm of his companion the sooth 
sayer alighted from the skiff with slow and uncertain steps 
and after ascending the water-stairs his guide knocked three 
times at the door of the pavilion. It was instantly opened 
and an African in fantastic livery, who seemed to fill the office 
of Cubicular, beckoned them to enter. With all the signs of 
exhaustion and the weariness of his years weighing heavily 
upon him, the conjurer dropped into a seat, paying no heed 
whatever to his surroundings nor to his companion, who had 
withdrawn into the shadows, while he awaited the arrival of 
the woman, who had called on his skill. 

He had not long to wait. 

Noiselessly a door opened and the majestic and graceful 
form of a woman glided into the pavilion, robed in a long black 
cloak and closely veiled. She motioned to the attendants to 
withdraw and to the astrologer to approach. 

" Most learned doctor of astral science," she said hi a soft 
clear voice of command, " you have brought me the calcula 
tions which your learning has enabled you to make as to the 
future of the persons whose nativities were supplied to 
you ? " 

The astrologer had been seized with a sudden violent fit of 
coughing and some moments elapsed ere he seemed able to 
speak. 

So low and weak were his tones, that the woman could not 
understand one word he uttered, and she began to exhibit 
unequivocal signs of impatience, when the conjurer s voice 
somewhat improved. 

" The horoscopes," he said in a strangely jarring tone, " are 

340 



THE LION OF BASALT 

the most wonderful that our science has ever revealed to me. 
They indicate most amazing changes of life, and signs of 
imminent peril." 

" You speak of one, or of both ? " 

"Of both!" 

" Give me the details of each horoscope! " 

The astrologer nodded. 

Theodora watched him from behind her veil as closely as 
he did her, for ever and anon he stole furtive glances at her 
and was immediately seized with his cough. 

His voice grated strangely in her ear as he spoke. 

" The first, whose nativity I have calculated, is that of one 
born thirty years, one hundred and seventeen days, and ten 
hours from this moment. It was a birth under the sign of the 
Serpent, at an hour charged with vast possibilities for the 
future. At that instant the Zodiac was moved by portentous 
lights and the earth shook with tremors as I have ascertained 
hi the records of our art ! " 

" What are the signs of the future ? " the woman interrupted 
the speaker. " What is past and gone, we all know, even 
without the aid of your profound wisdom. What of the future, 
I ask ? " she concluded imperiously. 

" I hate to impart to you what I have found," said the 
astrologer cringing. "It is terrible. The decimation of the 
house of Death stands close to the right ascension of the house 
of Life ! " 

Theodora gave a sudden start. For a moment she seemed 
to lose her self-control. Her piercing eyes seemed to look the 
astrologer through and through, though he had shrunk back 
into the wide girth of his mantle. 

" Give me the scroll ! " 

She stretched out a hand white as alabaster to take the 
parchment whereon the astrologer had marked the rise and 
fall of the star records. But, as if seized with a sudden fear, 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

she withdrew the hand ere the man of the stars could comply 
with her request. 

" The second horoscope ! " she spoke imperiously. 

Again a long fit of coughing prevented the astrologer from 
speaking. 

When it subsided, he said with profound solemnity, watching 
her expression intently from between his half -closed lids: 

" That other, whose nativity you have sent to me, shall find 
death, death, sudden and shameful " 

She stood rigid as a statue. 

" Tell me more! " she gasped. " Tell me more! " 

" He will die hated, unlamented, despised " 

She drew a deep breath. 

" When shall that be ? " 

" There is at this moment a most ominous sign in the 
heavens," replied the astrologer shrinking within himself. 
" Venus, who rules the skies is obscured by too close attendance 
upon a lower and less honourable star." 

Theodora held her breath. 

" What comes after ? " she whispered. 

" The lore of astral combinations does not reveal such 
things. But palmistry may aid, where the constellations 
fail. Deign to let me trace the lines hi the palm of your hand." 

Flinging aside her last reserve, Theodora in her eagerness 
held out her palm to the astrologer. He bent over it, without 
touching it, shaking his head, and muttering : 

" The line of life, the line of love, the line of death " 

As the astrologer pronounced the last word, his hand grasped 
with a vice-like grip the one whose lines he had pretended to 
read, while with the other, which had dropped the supporting 
staff, he pushed back the loose sleeve of her gown, baring her 
arm almost to the shoulder, constantly muttering: 

"The line of Death, the line of Death, the line of 
Death!" 

342 



THE LION OF BASALT 

When Theodora first felt the tightening grip on her wrist, 
she tried to withdraw her hand, but her strength was not equal 
to the task. She felt the benumbing pressure of what she 
imagined were the astrologer s fleshless claws, but when, with 
a motion almost too swift for one bent with age and infirmity, 
he laid bare to the shoulder the marble whiteness of her arm, 
she thought he had gone mad. But when the astrologer s 
trembling finger pointed to the red birthmark on her arm, 
just below her shoulder, resembling the claw of a raven, 
constantly muttering: "The line of Death the line of 
Death," she uttered a piercing shriek for help, vainly en 
deavouring to shake him off. 

A shadow dashed between the two, neither knew whence 
it came. 

The astrologer saw the gleam of a dagger before his eyes, 
felt its point strike against the corselet of mail beneath his 
cloak, felt the weapon rebound and snap asunder, the frag 
ments falling at his feet, and releasing the woman, who stood 
like an image of stone, he dropped his cloak and supporting 
staff, and clove with one blow of his short double-edged sword 
the skull of his assailant to the neck. With a piercing shriek 
Theodora rushed from the Pavilion, followed in mad breathless 
pursuit by the pseudo-astrologer, who had dropped his false 
beard with his other disguises and stood revealed to her terror- 
stricken gaze as Eckhardt, the Margrave. 

Without heeding the warning cry of Hezilo, his companion, 
he was bent upon taking the woman. In the darkness he could 
hear the rush of her frightened footsteps through the corridors ; 
he seemed to gain upon her, when her giant Africans rushing 
through another passage came between the Margrave and his 
intended victim. Three steps did he make through the press 
and three of her guards fell beneath his sword. But a stranger 
in the labyrinth of the great pavilion, he could hardly hope 
to gain his end, even if unimpeded, and Theodora s formidable 

343 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

body-guard still outnumbered him three to one. Eckhardt s 
doom would have been sealed had not at that very moment 
Hezilo appeared hi the passage behind him and laid an arresting 
hand upon his arm. 

Before the harper s well-known presence the Africans fell 
back, raising their dead from the blood-stained floor and 
skulking back into the dusk of the corridor. 

" You have no time to lose," urged the harper. " Follow 
me ! Speak not, question not. Remember your compact 
and your oath." 

Eckhardt turned upon his guide like a lion at bay. His face 
was pale as that of a corpse. His blood-shot eyes stared, as 
if they must burst from their sockets; his hair bristled like 
that of a maniac. 

" What care I ? " he growled fiercely. " Compact or oath 
what care I ? " 

" There are other considerations at stake," replied Hezilo 
calmly. " You promised to be guided by my counsel. The 
hour of final reckoning is not yet at hand." 

Eckhardt s breast heaved so violently, that it almost deprived 
him of the faculty of speech. 

" Must I turn back at the very gates of fulfilment ? " he 
burst forth at last. But sheathing his weapon he reluctantly 
followed the harper and, retracing their steps, they re-entered 
the Pavilion. In the slam boatman they recognized the ghastly 
features of John of the Catacombs, though the bravo s skull 
was literally cloven hi twain and a strange dread seized upon 
them at the terrible revelation. Eckhardt stood by idly, while 
the harper insisted upon removing the body, and wrapping his 
ghastly burden hi his blood-stained monkish gown, showed 
small repugnance to carrying the bravo s carcass to the land 
ing, where he fastened a short iron chain to the gruesome 
package and dropped it into the muddy waves of the Tiber. 

Dark clouds swept over the face of the moon and the chill 

344 



THE LION OF BASALT 

wind of autumn moaned dismally through the spectral pines, 
as the boat, propelled by the sturdy arms of Hezilo, flew up 
stream over the murky, foam-crested waves. 

An icy hand seemed to grip Eckhardt s heart. The words rung 
from the dying wretch in the rock-caves under the Gemonian 
stairs had proved true. In baring Theodora s left arm his eyes 
had fallen upon the well-remembered birthmark resembling 
the raven claw. The terrible revelation had for the nonce 
almost upset his reason, and caused him prematurely to 
drop his mask. All clarity of thought, all fixedness of purpose 
had deserted him; he felt as one stunned by the blinding 
blow of a maze. Dazed he stared before him into the gloom 
of the autumnal night; his hair dishevelled, his eyelids swollen, 
his lips compressed. He could not have uttered a word had 
his life depended upon it. His tongue seemed to cleave to the 
roof of his mouth; his brow was fevered, yet his hands were 
cold as ice. At last then he had stood face to face with the 
awful mystery, which had mocked his waking hours, his 
dreams, a mystery, even now but half guessed, but half 
revealed. He tried to recall fragments of the monk s tale. 
But his brain refused to work, steeped in the apathy of despair. 
The future hour must give birth to the considerations of the 
final step, to the closing chapters of his life. Yet he felt that 
delay would engender madness; long brooding had shaken his 
reason and swift action alone could now save it from tottering 
to a hopeless fall. 

The frail craft shot round the elbow-like bend of the Tiber 
at the base of Aventine when Hezilo for the first time broke 
the silence. He had refrained from questioning or commenting 
on the result of their visit to the Groves. Now, pointing to 
the ramparts of Castel San Angelo he whispered into Eckhardt s 
ear: 

" Are your forces beyond recall ? " 

Eckhardt stared up into the speaker s face, as if the latter 

345 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

had addressed him in some strange tongue. Only after Hezilo 
had repeated his question, Eckhardt roused himself from the 
lethargy, which benumbed his senses and gazed in the direction 
indicated by the harper. 

An errant moonbeam illumined just at this moment the 
upper galleries of Hadrian s tomb. Straining his gaze towards 
the ramparts of the formidable keep, Eckhardt strove to 
discover a reason for Hezilo s warning. But the moon dis 
appeared behind a bank of clouds and at that moment the 
sculler ran hi shore. 

Unconsciously his hand tightened round the hilt of his 
sword. 

" The earth breeds hard men and weak men," he muttered. 
" The gods can but laugh at them or grow wroth with them. 
As for these Romelings, they are not worth destroying. 
They will perish of themselves." 

" The hour is close at hand, when everything shall be 
known to you," Hezilo turned to Eckhardt at parting. " But 
three days remain to the full of the moon." 

Weary and sick at heart Eckhardt grasped the harper s 
proffered hand, as they parted. 

But he was in no mood to return within the four walls of 
his palace. He was as one upon whom has descended a thunder 
bolt from Heaven. 

The terrible revelation deprived him of his senses, of his 
energies, of the desire to live, and there was little doubt 
that this would have been Eckhardt s last night on earth, had 
there not remained one purpose to his life. 

How small did even that appear by the magnitude of the 
crime, which had been visited upon his head. The how and 
why and when remained as great a mystery to him as ever. 
Eckhardt s memory roamed back into the years of the past. 
He tried to recall every word Ginevra had spoken to him; 
he tried to recall every wish her lips had expressed, he 

346 



THE LION OF BASALT 

tried to recall every unstinted caress. And with these memo 
ries there rose up before his inner eye Ginevra s image and 
with it there welled up from his heart an anguish so great, 
that it drove the nails of his fingers deep into the flesh of his 
clenched hands. 

He remembered her strange request never to inquire into 
her past, but to love her and let his trust be the proof of his 
love. Then there came floating faintly, like phantoms on the 
dark waves of his memory, her inordinate desire for power, 
hinted rather than expressed, then darkness swallowed, 
everything else. Only boundless anguish remained, fathomless 
despair. After a while his feelings suffered a reverse; they 
changed to a hate of the woman as great as his love had been, 
a hate for the fateful siren, Rome, who had deprived him of all 
that was dearest to him on earth. 

Bending his solitary steps towards the Capitol, he saw the 
veil-like mists gathering above the wild grass, which waves 
above the palaces of the Caesars. On a mound cf rums he 
stood with folded arms musing and intent. In the distance 
lay the melancholy tombs of the Campagna and the circling 
hills faintly outlined beneath the pale starlight. Not a breeze 
stirred the dark cypresses and spectral pines. There was 
something weird hi the stillness of the skies, hushing the 
desolate grandeur of the earth below. 

He had not gone very far when a shadow fell across his 
path. Looking up he again found himself by the staircase of 
the Lion of Basalt. The weird relic from the banks of the Nile 
filled him with a strange dread. With a shudder he paused. 
Was it the ghastly and spectral light or did the face of the old 
Egyptian monster wear an aspect as that of life? The stony 
eye-balls seemed bent upon him with a malignant scowl and 
as he passed on and looked behind they appeared almost 
preternaturally to follow his steps. A chill sank into his heart 
when the sound of footsteps arrested him and Eckhardt stood 

347 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

face to face with the hermit of Gaeta. He beckoned to the 
monk to accompany him, vainly endeavouring to frame the 
question, which hovered on his lips. The monk joined him in 
silence. After walking some little way Nilus suddenly paused, 
fixing his questioning gaze on the brooding face of his com 
panion. Then a strange expression passed into his eyes. 

" Life is full of strange surprises. Yet we cling to it, just 
to keep out of the darkness through which we know not the 
way." 

Sick at heart Eckhardt listened. How little the monk knew, 
he thought, and Nilus was staggered at the haggard expression 
of the Margrave s face, as he stumbled blindly and giddily 
down the moonlit avenue beside him. 

" Would I had never seen her ! " Eckhardt groaned. " In 
what a fair disguise the fiend did come to tempt my soul ! " 

He paused. The monk drew him onward. 

" Come with me to my hermitage ! Thou art strangely 
excited and do what thou mayest, thou must follow out 
thy destiny ! Hesitate not to confide in me ! " 

"My destiny! " Eckhardt replied. "Monk, do not mock 
me ! If thou hast any mystic power, read my soul and measure 
its misery. I have no destiny, save despair." 

The monk regarded him strangely. 

" Because a woman is false and thy soul is weak, thou 
needest not at once make bosom friends with despair. It is a 
long time since I have been in the world. It is a long time 
since I have abjured its vanities. Let him who has withstood 
the terrible temptation, cast the first stone. For the flesh is 
weak and the sin is as old as the world. And perchance even 
the monk may be able to counsel, to guide thee in some mat 
ters, for verily thou standest on the brink of a precipice." 

" I am well-nigh mad ! " Eckhardt replied wearily. " Were 
there but a ray of light to guide my steps." 

Nilus pointed upward. 

348 



THE LION OF BASALT 

" All light flows from the fountain-head of truth. Be true 
to thyself ! Life is duty ! In its fulfilment alone can there be 
happiness, and in the renunciation of that, which has 
been denied us by the Supreme Wisdom. No more than thou 
canst reverse the wheel of time, no more canst thou compel 
that dark power, Fate. And at best what matters it for the 
short space of this earthly existence ? For believe me, the End 
of Time is nigh, and in the beyond all will be as if it had 
never been." 

Nilus paused and their eyes met. And in silence Eckhardt 
followed the monk among the ruins of the latter s abode. 

As the morning dawned, some fishermen dragging their 
nets off St. Bartholomew s island pulled up from the muddy 
waves the body of an old man clad in the loose garb of a monk. 
But as the day grew older a new crime and fresh scandal 
filled Forum and wine shops and the incident was forgotten 
ere night-fall. 



349 



CHAPTER XIV 



THE LAST TRYST 




HE great clock on the tower 
of San Sebastian struck the 
second hour of night. The air 
was so pure, so transparent, that 
against the horizon the snow 
capped summit of Soracte was 
visible, like a crown of glitter 
ing crystal. Mysteriously the 
stars twinkled hi the fathom 
less blue of the autumnal night. 
Procession after procession traversed the city. From their 
torches smoky spirals rose up to the starry skies. The pale 
rays of the moon, the crimson glare of the torches, illumined 
faces haggard with fear, seamed with anxiety and dread. 
Despite the late hour, the people swarmed like ants, occupying 
every point of vantage, climbing lantern poles and fallen 
columns, armed with clubs, halberds, scythes, pitchforks and 
staves. Here and there strange muffled forms were to be seen 
mingling with the crowds, whispering here and there a word 
into the ear of a chance passerby and vanishing like phantoms 
into the night. 

Among the many abroad hi the city at this hour was Eck- 
hardt. He mistrusted the Romans, he mistrusted the Senator, 
he mistrusted the monks. The fire of his own consuming 
thoughts would not permit him to remain within the four walls 
of his palace. Like a grim spectre of the past he stalked through 
Rome, alone, unattended. How long would the terrible mystery 

350 



THE LAST TRYST 

of his life continue to mock him ? How much longer must he 
bear the awful weight which was crushing his spirit with its 
relentless agony ? What availed his presence in Rome ? The 
king had long ceased to consult him on matters of state; 
Benilo and Stephania possessed his whole ear and Eckhardt 
was no longer hi his counsels. 

With a degree of anxiety, which he had hi vain endeavoured 
to dispel, Eckhardt had watched the growing intimacy between 
his sovereign and the Senator s wife. Time and again he had, 
even at the risk of Otto s fierce displeasure, warned the King 
against the danger lurking behind Stephania s mask of friend 
ship. Wearied and exasperated with his importunities, Otto 
had asserted the sovereign, and Eckhardt s lips had remained 
sealed ever since, though his watchfulness had not relaxed 
one jot, and even while he endeavoured to lift the veil, which 
enshrouded his own life, he remained circumspect and on the 
alert, true to his promise to the Empress Theophano, now in 
her grave. 

The sounds which on this night fell from every side on 
Eckhardt s ear were not of a nature to dispel his misgivings 
of the Roman temper. As by a subtle intuition he felt that they 
were ripe for a change, though when and whence and how it 
would come he could not guess. His own mood was as dark 
as the sky-gloom lowering over the Seven Hills. Rome had 
made of him what he was, Rome had poisoned his life with 
the viper-sting of Ginevra s terrible deed, and now he longed 
for nothing more than for some great event, which would toss 
him into the foaming billows of strife, therein to sink and to 
go under for ever. 

Drawing his mantle closer about him and lowering the vizor 
of his helmet, Eckhardt slowly made his way through the con 
gested throngs. He had not proceeded very far, when he felt 
some one pluck him by the mantle. Turning abruptly and 
shaking himself free, from what he believed to be the clutches 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

of a beggar, he was about to dismiss the offender with an oath, 
when to his surprise he beheld a woman dressed in the garb of 
a peasant, but clearly disguised, as her speech gave the lie to 
her affectation of low birth. 

" You are Eckhardt, the Margrave ? " she asked timidly. 

" I am Eckhardt," the general replied curtly. 

" Then lose no time to save him, else he will run into per 
dition as sure as yonder moon shines down upon us. Oh ! He 
knows not the dangers that beset him; on my knees I im 
plore you save him ! " 

" When I understand the meaning of your gibberish, doubt 
not I will serve you ! I pray you give me a glimpse of its pur 
port," replied the Margrave. 

The woman seemed so entirely wrapt up in her own business 
that she did not heed Eckhardt s question. 

" I dare not whisper the secret to any one else, and my 
Lord Benilo bade me seek you in case of danger. And if you 
cannot move him from his mad purpose, he is lost, for never 
was he so bent to have his own way. If you come with me, 
you will find him waiting on the terrace, and do your 
best to lead him back, else he will come to as evil an end 
as a wasp in a bee s hive, for all the honey! " 

" And whom shall I find on the terrace ? " asked Eckhardt 
with ill-concealed impatience. He liked not the babbling 
crone. " Cease your spurting and speak plainly, else go your 
way: I am not for such as you! " 

"It wants but a moment whom else but your King, 
for whom she has sent under pretext of important business, 
aye, at this very hour and on the terraces of the Mino- 
taurus." 

.ft 

" Otto, important business, Minotaurus " repeated 
Eckhardt. " Who has sent for him ? " 
" Stephania." 

Eckhardt shrugged his shoulders. 

352 



THE LAST TRYST 

" What is it to me ? Go your way, hoary pander, what 
is it to me ? Hasten to him, who has paid you to tell this tale 
and get your ransom from him ! I wager, he knows the style 
of old ! " 

The woman did not move. 

" Nay, my lord, that we all should go mad at one time," 
she sobbed with evidently strong emotions, which were perhaps 
not caused by the motive alleged. " Then I must away and 
fulfil his destiny, for a man cannot serve two masters, 
nor a woman either." 

There was something in the speaker s tone that caused a 
shadow of apprehension to rise in Eckhardt s mind. Was 
there more behind all this than she cared to confess ? " Ful 
fil his destiny " these words at least were not her own. 
A grave fear seized him. Otto might be ambushed, carried 
away, he might rot in Castel San Angelo, and no man the 
wiser for it. 

" Stay! I will go and cross the boy s path to his guilty 
paradise," repeated Eckhardt after permitting the woman to 
draw away from him at a very slow and wistful pace and 
overtaking her with a couple of strides. " Lead on, but do 
not speak! I have no tongue to answer you! " 

The woman immediately took the well-known route towards 
the terraces of the Minotaurus and soon they reached the spot. 
A covered archway at one extremity admitted on a terrace, 
flanked on one side by a high dead wall of the Vatican, on the 
other by a steep and precipitous slope, wooded with orange 
trees and myrtle. This spot, little frequented in day time, was 
deserted by night. The woman whispered that it was here, she 
expected the King, and cautioning Eckhardt to remove him 
with all speed from this danger zone, which offered no means 
of escape, she precipitately retired, leaving Eckhardt alone to 
meditate upon what he had heard, and to pursue his adventure 
in the darkness. 

353 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

The Margrave hastened along the archway and peering into 
the shadows he quickly discerned the slim outline of a man, 
wrapt in an ample cloak, leaning against the dead wall at the 
end of the platform. His eyes seemed fixed intently upon the 
heavens, while an expression of impatience reigned uppermost 
in the pale, thoughtful face. 

Eckhardt quickly approached the edge of the terrace, where 
he had discovered Otto, and although the King kept his face 
averted, he could scarcely hope to escape recognition. 

" Otto the King can it be ? " Eckhardt said with 
feigned surprise, as he faced the youth. " I beg your majesty s 
pardon, are you a lodger in yonder palace or how chances 
it that you are here alone, unattended ? " 

" Ay since you know me," replied Otto with a forced 
smile, " I will not deny my name nor business either. The 
ladies of the Senator s court are fair, and an ancient crone 
whispered to me at my devotions to Our Lady, on this terrace 
and at this hour, if I prayed heartily, I should have good 
news. Matter enough, I ween, to stir one s curiosity, but, 
I fear, - 1 should be alone." 

The blood surged thickly through Eckhardt s brain. He 
could scarcely breathe, as he listened to this falsehood and for 
a few moments he gazed hi silence on the flushed and paling 
visage of the youth. 

At last he spoke. 

" Is it possible that the air of Rome can even change a 
nature like yours to utter a falsehood ? My liege, you are 
not yourself! " Eckhardt exclaimed, discarding all reserve, 
for he knew there was no time to be lost. And if perchance 
the fair serpent that had lured him hither was nigh, 
his words should strike her heart with shame and dismay. 
" It is to Stephania you go, it is Stephania, whom you 
await! " 

There was a brief pause during which a hectic flush chased 

354 



THE LAST TRYST 

the deep pallor from Otto s face, as he passively listened to 
the unaccustomed speech. 

" Stephania," he repeated absently, and suffering his cloak 
to drop aside in his absorption, he revealed the richness and 
splendour of the garb beneath. 

" The wife of the Senator of Rome ! " Eckhardt supplemented 
sternly. 

" And what if it be ? " Otto responded with mingled petulancy 
and confusion. " What if the Senator s consort has vouch 
safed me a private audience ? " 

" Are you beside yourself, King Otto ? You venture into 
this place alone, unattended, to please some woman s 
whim, a woman who is playing with you, and will lead 
you to perdition ? " 

" How dare you arraign your King and his deeds ? " Otto 
exclaimed fiercely. 

" I am here to save you from yourself! You know not 
the consequences of your deed ! " 

" Let them be what they will! I am here, to abide them! " 

Eckhardt crossed his arms over his broad chest as he re 
garded the offspring of the vanquisher of the Saracens with 
mingled scorn and pity. 

" The spell is heavy upon you, here among the crimson and 
purple flowers, where the Siren sings you to destruction," he 
said with forced calmness. " But you shall no longer listen 
to her voice, else you are lost. Otto, Otto, away with 
me ! We will leave this accursed spot and Rome together for 
ever! There is no other refuge for you from the spell of the 
Sorceress." 

" Not for all the lands on which the sun sets to-night will 
I refuse obedience to Stephania s call," Otto replied. " You 
sorely mistake your place and presume too much on the 
authority placed into your hands by the august Empress, my 
mother. But attempt not to exercise mastery over your King 

355 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

or to bend him to your will and purpose for he will do as he 
chooses ! " 

" It has come to this then," replied Eckhardt without 
stirring from the spot and utterly disregarding Otto s increasing 
nervousness. " It has come to this! Are there no chaste and 
fair maidens hi your native land ? Maidens of high birth and 
lineage, fit to adorn an emperor s couch ? Must you needs 
come hither, hither, to this thrice accursed spot, to love 
an alien, to love a Roman, and of all Romans, a married woman 
the wife of your arch-enemy, the Senator ? Are you blind, 
King Otto ? Can you not see the game ? You alone of 
all ? Deem you the proud, merciless Stephania, the consort 
of the Senator, who hates us Teutons more than he does the 
fiend himself, would meet you here hi this secluded spot, 
with her husband s knowledge, with her husband s con 
nivance, simply to listen to your dreams and vagaries ? 
Can you not see that you are but her dupe ? King Otto, you 
have refused to listen to my warnings : there is sedition rife 
hi Rome. Retire to the Aventine, bar the gates to every one, 
I have despatched my fleetest messenger to Tivoli to recall our 
contingents, before dawn my Saxons shall hammer at the 
gates of Rome ! " 

Otto gazed at the speaker as if the latter addressed him hi 
some unknown tongue. 

" Sedition hi Rome ? " he replied like one wrapt hi a dream. 
" You are mad! The Romans love me! Even as I do them! 
I will not stir an inch ! I remain ! " 

Eckhardt breathed hard. He must carry his point; he felt 
oppressed by the sense of a great danger. 

" And thus it befalls," he said laughing aloud with the ex 
cess of bitterness, " that to this hour I owe the achievement of 
knowing the cause why you have declined the demands of the 
Electors; that I can bear to them the answer to their im 
portunities; that hi this hour I have learned the true reason 

356 



THE LAST TRYST 

of your refusing to listen to your German subjects, who crave 
your return, who love you and your glorious house ! You say 
you will remain ! Revel then in your Eden, until she is weary 
of you and Crescentius spares her the pains of the finish." 

" What are you raving ? " exclaimed Otto furiously. 

" You are mad for love, King Otto, and a frenzied lover is 
the worst of fools ! " 

The King blushed, with the consciousness either of his inno 
cence or guilt. 

" Since you accuse me," he spoke more calmly, but a strange 
fire burning in his eyes, " I do not deny it, Stephania re 
quested a meeting on matters pertaining to Rome, and I have 
come! And here," Otto continued, inflexible determination 
ringing in his tones " and here I will await her, if all hell 
or the swords of Rome barred the way. Do you hear me, Eck- 
hardt ? Too long have I been the puppet of the Electors. 
Too long have I suffered your tyranny. My will is supreme, 
and who so defies it, is a traitor! " 

Eckhardt gazed fixedly into his sovereign s eyes. 

" King Otto! Is it possible that you beguile yourself with 
these specious pretexts ? That you assail the honour of those 
who have followed you hither, who have twice conquered 
Rome for you ? Ay, no one so blind as he who will not see ! 
I tell you, Stephania is luring you into the betrayal of your 
honour, perhaps that of the Senator, who knows ? I 
tell you she is deceiving you! Or, if she pretends to love, 
it is to betray you ! You cannot resist her magic,- it is not in 
humanity to do so, were it thrice subdued by years of fasting. 
If you repel her now, your victory will be bought with your 
destruction! Her undying hatred will mark you her own! 
But if you succumb you are lost, the Virgin herself could 
not save you ! You shall not remain ! You shall not meet her, 
not as long as the light of these eyes can watch over your 
credulous heart! " 

357 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Otto had advanced a step. Vainly groping for words to vent 
his wrath, he paced up and down before the trusted leader 
of his hosts. 

At last he paused directly before him. 

" My Lord Eckhardt," he said, " it might content you to 
rake amidst the slime of the city for matter, with which to 
asperse a pure and beautiful woman, as for myself, while 
my hand can clutch the hilt of a sword, you shall not! " he 
exclaimed, yielding at last to the voice of his fiery nature. 

" Strike then," Eckhardt replied, raising his arms. " I 
have no weapon against my King ! " 

Otto pushed the half drawn sword back into the scabbard. 

" For this," he said, " you shall abide a reckoning." 

" Then let it be now ! " Eckhardt exclaimed in a wild jeering 
tone. " Go and bid Stephania arm her champion, one against 
whom I may enter the lists, and I swear to you, that from his 
false breast I will tear the truth, which you refuse to accept, 
coming from your friends! But I am not in a mood to be 
trifled with. You shall not remain, King Otto, and I swear 
by these spurs, I will rather kill your paramour, than to see 
you betrayed to the doom which awaits you." 

" Are life and death so absolutely hi the hands of the Mar 
grave of Meissen ? " replied Otto in a towering rage. " In 
the face of your defiance I will tarry here and abide my for 
tune." 

And clutching Eckhardt s mantle, in his wrath, his eye met 
the eye of the fearless general. 

With a jerk the latter freed himself from Otto s grasp. 

" A fool in love : A thing that men spurn and women 
deride." 

Otto s face turned deadly pale. 

" You dare? This to your King ? " 

" I dare everything to save you everything ! Otto the 
Romans mistrust you! They love you no longer! They are 

358 



THE LAST TRYST 

ripe for a change! The longer you tarry, the fiercer will be 
the strife. Crescentius would rather destroy the whole city 
than let it be permanently wrested from his power. You have 
been his dupe, hark do you hear those voices ? " 

" Of all my enemies he is the one sincere." 

" Then he were the more dangerous! A fanatic is always 
more powerful than a knave. Do you hear these voices, King 
Otto ? " 

Otto was pacing the terrace with feverish impatience. 

" I hear nothing! I hear nothing! Go and leave me! " 

" And know you sold, betrayed, by that " 

A shadow crossed his path, noiseless on the velvety turf. 

Before them stood Stephania. 

" Finish your words, my Lord. Eckhardt," she said facing 
the Margrave. " Pray, let not my presence mellow your 
speech." 

" And it shall not! " retorted Eckhardt hotly. 

" And it shall! " thundered Otto rushing upon him. " Upon 
your life, Eckhardt, one insult and " 

Stephania laid a tranquillizing finger on Otto s arm. 

" I have heard all," she said, pale as marble, but smiling, 
" And I forgive." 

"You have heard his accusation and you forgive, Ste 
phania ? " cried Otto, gazing incredulously into her eyes. 

" You had faith in me I thank you Otto ! " she replied 
softly, and sweeping by Eckhardt, she extended both hands to 
the King. He grasped them tightly within his own and, bending 
over them, pressed his fevered lips upon them. 

Suddenly all three raised their heads and listened. 

A sound not unlike a distant trumpet blast, rent the stillness 
of night, seemed to swell with the echoes from the hills, then 
died away. 

" What is this ? " the German leader questioned, puzzled. 

" The monks are holding processions, the streets are 

359 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

swarming with the cassocks, their chants can be heard 
everywhere." 

Stephania gazed at Otto, as she answered Eckhardt s question. 

The Margrave scrutinized her intently. 

" I knew not the Senator loved the black crows so well, as 
to furnish music to their march," he replied slowly. Then he 
turned to the woman. 

"Hear me, Stephania! You see me here, but you know 
not that I have ordered all my men-at-arms to attend me at 
the gates below ! If the King s foolish passion and blind trust 
have been the means to execute your hellish design, know 
that with my own hand I will avenge your remorseless treach 
ery, for I will slay you if aught befall him in this night, and 
hang your lord, the Senator of Rome, from the ramparts of 
Castel San Angelo, I swear it by the Five Wounds ! " 

For a moment Stephania stood petrified with terror and 
unable to utter a single word in response. Then she turned 
to Otto. 

" This man is mad ! Order him begone, or I will go my 
self. He frightens me ! " 

She made a movement as if to depart, but Otto, divining her 
intention, barred the way. 

" Stephania remain ! " he entreated. " Our general is 
but prompted by an over great zeal for our welfare," he con 
cluded, restraining himself with an effort. Then breathing 
hard, he extended his arm, and with flaming eyes spoke to 
Eckhardt: 

"Go!" 

" I go! " the general replied with heavy heart. " If anything 
unusual happens in this night, King Otto, remember my words 
remember my warning. My men are stationed at the wicket, 
through which you came. There is no other exit, save to 
perdition. I leave you may the Saints keep you till we meet 
again \ " 

360 



THE LAST TRYST 

With these words Eckhardt gathered his mantle about him 
and stalked away, leisurely at first, as if to lull to sleep every 
inkling of suspicion hi Stephania, then faster and faster, and 
at last he fairly flew up the winding road of Aventine. Those 
whom he met shied out of his path, as if the fiend himself was 
coming towards them and shaking their heads in grave wonder 
and fear, muttered an Ave and told their beads. 

Strange noises were in the air. The chants of the monks 
were intermingled with the fierce howls and shrieks of a mob, 
harangued by some demagogue, who fed their discontentment 
with arguments after their own heart. Everywhere Eckhardt 
met skulking countenances, scowling faces, while half-sup 
pressed oaths fell on his ear. Arrived on the Aventine he imme 
diately ordered Haco, Captain of the Imperial Guards, to his 
presence. 

" Bridle your charger and ride to Tivoli as if ten thousand 
devils were on your heels," he said, handing the young officer 
an order he had hurriedly and barbarously scratched on a 
fragment of parchment. " Pass through the Tiburtine gate and 
return with sunrisa, life and death depend upon your speed ! " 

Withdrawing immediately, Haco saddled his charger and 
soon the echoes of his horse s hoofs died away in the distance, 
while Eckhardt hurriedly entered the palace. 

After he had vanished from the labyrinth of the Minotaurus, 
Otto and Stephania faced each other for a moment in silence. 
The Southern night was very still. The noises from the city 
had died down. By countless thousands the stars shone in 
the deep, fathomless heavens. 

It was Otto who first broke the heavy silence. 

" Stephania," he said, " why are you here to-night ? " 

" What a strange question," she replied, " and from you." 

" Yes from me! From me to you. Is it because " 

He paused as if oppressed by some great dread. He dared 
not trust himself to speak those words in her hearing. 

361 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Is it because I love you ? " she complemented the sen 
tence, drawing him down beside her. But the seed of doubt 
Eckhardt had planted in his heart had taken root. 

" Stephania," he said with a strange voice, without replying 
directly to her question. " I have trusted in you and I will 
continue to trust in you, even despite the whisperings of the 
fiend, until with my own eyes I behold you faithless. Eck 
hardt has been with me all day," he continued with unsteady 
voice, " he has warned me against you, he has warned me to 
place no trust in your words, that you are but the instrument 
of Crescentius; that he has organized a mutiny; that he but 
awaits your signal for my destruction. He has warned me 
that you have planned my seizure and selected this spot, to 
prevent intervention. Stephania, answer me is it so ? " 

For a moment the woman gazed at him in dread silence, 
unable to speak. 

" Did you believe ? " she faltered at last with averted gaze, 
very pale. 

" I am here ! " he replied. 

Stephania laughed nervously. 

" I had forgotten! " she stammered. " How good of you! " 

Otto regarded her with silent wonder, not unmingled with 
fear, for her countenance betrayed an anxiety he had never 
read in it before. And indeed her restlessness and terror 
seemed to increase with every moment. She answered Otto s 
questions evidently without knowing what she said, and her 
gaze turned frequently and with a devouring expression of 
anxiety and dread toward Castel San Angelo. Maddened 
and desperate with her own perfidy, she began to ruminate 
the most violent extremities, without perceiving one exit from 
the labyrinth of guile. The significance of Otto s question, 
his earnestness and his faith in herself put the crown on her 
misery. Her eyes grew dim and her senses were failing. 
Her limbs quaked and for a moment she was unable to speak. 

362 



THE LAST TRYST 

Otto bent over her in positive fear. The pale face looked 
so deathlike that his heart quailed at the thought of life, 
life without her. 

" I cannot bear it I cannot bear it," he muttered, holding 
her hands in his tight grasp. 

It seemed as if she had read his inmost, unspoken 
thoughts. 

" And yet it must come at last ! " she replied softly, as from 
the depths of a dream. " What is this short span of life for 
such love as ours ? And, had we even everything we 
could crave, all the world can give, would there not be a 
sting in each moment of happiness at the thought " 

She paused. Her head drooped. 

" My happiness is to be with you," he stammered. " I 
cannot count the cost! " 

" Think you that I would count the cost ? " she said. " And 
you love me despite of all those dreadful things, which he 
Eckhardt has poured into your ear ? " she continued with 
low, purring voice. 

" Love you love you! " he repeated wildly. " Oh, I have 
loved you all my life, even before I saw you, are you not the 
embodied form of all those vague dreams of beauty, which 
haunted my earliest childhood ? That beauty, which I sought 
yearningly, but oh ! so vainly in all things, that breathe the divine 
essence : the lustrous darkness of night, the glories of sunset, 
the subtle perfume of the rose, the all-reflecting ocean of 
poetry hi which the Universe mirrors itself ? In all have I 
found the same deep void, which only love can fill. Not love 
you," he continued covering both hands he held in his with 
fevered kisses, " oh, Stephania, I love you better than myself, 
better than all things, here and hereafter." 

Almost paralyzed with fear she listened to his mad pleading. 

" And can nothing nothing, destroy this love you have 
for me ? " she faltered. 

363 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

He took her yielding form in his arms. He drew her closer 
and closer to his heart. 

" Nothing, nothing, nothing." 

" I love you Otto " she whispered deliriously. 

" To the end, dearest, to the end ! " 

From a tavern at the foot of the hill the sounds of high 
revelry were borne up to them. The air was filled with 
the odour of dead leaves and dying creation, that subtle pre 
monition of the end to come. 

" And you have anxiously waited my coming ? " she said, 
hiding her face in his arms. 

" Oh, Stephania ! The hour-glass, with which passion 
measures a lover s impatience, is a burning torch to his heart." 

Supreme stillness intervened again. 

Stephania raised her head like a deer in covert, listening 
for the hunters, listening for the baying of the hounds, coming 
nearer and nearer. Gladly at this moment would she have 
given her life to undo what she had done. But it was too late. 
Even this expiation would not avail! There was nothing now 
to do, but to nerve herself for that supreme moment, when all 
would be severed between them for aye and ever; when she 
would stand before him the embodiment of deception; when 
he would spurn her as one spurns the reptile, that repays the 
caressing hand with its deadly sting ; when he would curse her 
perhaps, cast from him for ever the woman who had cut 
the thread of the life he had laid at her feet and all, for 
what? 

That Johannes Crescentius, the Senator of Rome might 
again come into his own, that he might again lord the 
rabble which now skulked through the streets to avenge some 
imaginary wrong on the head of the youth, whose love for 
them was to be the pass word for his destruction. 

And Johannes Crescentius was her husband and lord. He 
loved her with as great a love as his nature was capable of, 

364 



THE LAST TRYST 

and whatever faults might be laid at the door of his regime, 
if faults they could even be termed in a lawless, feudal age, 
that knew no right save might, to her he had never been 
untrue. 

Stephania endeavoured to persuade herself that, what she 
had done, she had done for the good of Rome. Monstrous 
deception! She despised the mongrel rabble too heartily to 
even have raised a finger in its behalf. If they starved, would 
Crescentius give them bread ? If they froze would Cres- 
centius clothe them ? Then there remained but the question, 
should a Roman govern Rome, or the alien, the foreigner. 
Was it for her to decide ? How unworthy the cause of the 
sacrifice she was about to bring on the altar of her happiness. 
But which ever way the tongue of the scales inclined, it was 
too late! 

Otto had buried his head on Stephania s bosom. She had 
encircled it with her arms and with gentle fingers that sent a 
delirium through his brain, she stroked his soft brown hair, 
while the cry of Delilah hovered on her lips. 

He looked up into her eyes. 

" Stephania, why are you here to-night ? " he whispered 
again, and he felt the tremor which quivered through her body. 

" I came to bring you the answer which you craved at our 
last meeting," she replied softly. " Can you guess it ? " 

" Then you have chosen," he gasped, as if he were suddenly 
confronted with the crisis in his existence, when that which he 
held dearest must either slip away from him for ever or remain 
his through all eternity. 

" I have chosen ! " she whispered, her arms tightening 
round him, as if she would protect him against all the world. 

" Kiss me," she moaned. 

One delirious moment their lips met. They remained locked 
in tight embrace, lip to lip, heart to heart. 

There was a brief breathless silence. 

365 



Suddenly the great bell of the Capitol rolled in solemn and 
majestic sounds upon the air, and was answered from all the 
belfries of Rome. But louder than the pealing tocsin, above 
the wild screaming and clanging of the bells rose the piercing 
cry: 

" Death to the Saxon! Death to the King! " 

They both raised their heads and listened. With wild-eyed 
wonder Otto gazed into Stephania s eyes. The marble statues 
around them were hardly as white as her features. 

" What is this ? " he questioned. 

There was a stir in the depths of the streets below. Shouts 
and jeers of strident voices were broken by authoritative com 
mands. The tramp of mailed feet was remotely audible, but 
above all the hubbub and din rose the cry: 

" Death to the Saxon! Death to the King! " 

When the first peals of the great bell quivered on the silent 
night air, Stephania had, with a low wail, encircled Otto s 
head with her arms, pressed him closely to her, as if to shield 
him from harm. Then, as louder and wilder the iron tongues 
shrieked defiance through the air, as, turning her head, she 
saw the fatal spear points of the Albanians gleaming through 
the thicket, she suddenly shook him off. With a stifled outcry, 
she rose to her feet ; so abruptly that Otto staggered and would 
have fallen, had he not in time caught himself with the aid of 
a branch. 

To the King it gave the impression of a wild hideous dream. 
Like one dazed, he stared first at the woman, then down the 
declivity. 

Directly beneath where he stood a scribe was haranguing 
the crowds, descanting on the ancient glory of the Romans 
and exhorting his listeners to exterminate all foreigners. From 
Castel San Angelo came an incessant sound of trumpets, which, 
mingling with the brazen roar of bells seemed to shake the 
earth. Torches lighted the streets with their smoky crimson 

366 



THE LAST TRYST 

glare. People hurried hither and thither, jostling, pushing, 
trampling upon each other like black shadows, like living 
phantoms. The fiery glow, the voices of the angry mob, the 
pealing of the bells, they all struck Stephania s heart with 
a thousand talons of remorse and shame. Fearstruck 
and trembling, she gazed into the pale face of Theophano s 
son. 

Otto was watching the distant pandemonium as one would 
gaze upon some strange, hideous ceremonial of occult meaning, 
then he turned slowly to Stephania. 

For a moment they faced each other in silence, then he 
stroked the disordered hair from his forehead like one waking 
from a dream. 

" You have betrayed me." 

Her lips were tightly compressed; she made no reply. 

The next moment he was on his knees before her. 

" Forgive me, forgive me," he faltered, " I knew not what 
I said ! " 

She breathed hard. For a moment she closed her eyes in 
mortal anguish. 

" Then you still believe in me ? " She spoke hardly above 
a whisper. 

" With all my heart," he replied, grasping her hands and 
covering them with kisses. For a moment she suffered him 
to exhaust his endearments, then she jerked them away from 
him. 

" Then bid your hopes and dreams farewell and scatter your 
faith to the winds," she shrieked, almost beside herself with the 
memory of her vow and its consequences. " You are betrayed, 
and I have betrayed you ! " 

Otto had staggered to his feet and gazed upon the beautiful 
apparition who faced him like some avenging fury, as if he 
thought that she had gone suddenly mad. For a moment she 
paused, as if summoning supreme energy for the execution of 

367 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

her task, as if to lash herself into a paroxysm sufficient to make 
her forget those accusing eyes and his all-mastering love. 

" I have betrayed you, King Otto ! I, Stephania, a woman ! 
Ah! You believed my words! You were vain enough to 
imagine that the wife of the Senator of Rome could love you, 
you, her greatest foe, you, the Saxon, the alien, the intruder, 
who came here to rob us of our own, to wrest the sceptre from 
the rightful lord of the Seven Hills. You hoped Stephania 
would aid you to realize your mad dreams! How unsophisti 
cated, how deliciously innocent is the King of the Germans! 
Know then that I have lied to you, when I feigned interest in 
your cause, know that I have lied to you when I professed to 
love you ! Love you," she cried, while her heart was breaking 
with every word she hurled against him, who listened to her 
speech hi frozen terror. " Love you ! Fool ! And you were 
mad enough to believe it ! Do you hear those bells ? Do you 
hear the great tocsin from the Capitol ? Do you hear the 
alarums from the ramparts of Castel San Angelo ? They are 
calling the Romans to arms ! They are summoning the Romans 
to revolt ! Do you hear those shouts ? Death to the Germans ? 
They are for you, for you, for you ! " 

Again she paused, breathing hard, collecting all her woman s 
strength to finish what she had begun. 

The end had come, her task must be finished. 

Her voice now assumed its natural tones, the more dreadful 
in their import, as she spoke hi the old deep, soulful accents. 

" I have lulled you to sleep," she continued, breaking the 
bridge, which led back into the past, span by span, " that 
the Senator of Rome may once again come into his own! I 
have pretended interest in your monkish fancies, that Rome 
may once more shake off the invader s accursed yoke. I am 
a Roman, King Otto, and I hate you, hate you with every 
beat of my heart, that beats for Rome. King Otto, you are 
doomed." 



THE LAST TRYST 

He had listened to her words with wide, wondering eyes, 
his heart frozen with terror and anguish, his face pale as that 
of a corpse, returned from its grave. He heard voices in the 
distance and the tread of armed feet coming nearer and nearer. 
Yet he stirred not. His tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. 
There were strange rushing sounds hi his ears, like mocking 
echoes of Stephania s words. 

At last his lips moved, while with a desperate effort he tried 
to shake off the spell. 

" May God forgive you, Stephania," he gasped like a drown 
ing man, reeled and caught himself, gazing upon her with 
delirious, burning eyes. 

Closer and closer came the tramp of mailed feet. 

Terror struck, Stephania gazed into Otto s face. The 
fiercest denunciation would not have so completely unnerved 
her as the simple words of the youth. She almost succumbed 
under the weight of her anguish. 

" Fly, King Otto, fly, save yourself," she gasped, 
staggering toward him hi the endeavour to shake off the fatal 
torpor which had seized his limbs. But he saw her not, he 
heard not her warning. Listlessly he gazed into space. 

But had those who rushed down the avenue been his enemies 
and death his certain lot, there would not have been time for 
flight. 

Stephania heaved a sigh of relief as hi their leader she 
recognized the Margrave of Meissen, followed by a score or 
more of the Saxon guard. 

Her own fate she never gave a thought. 

" Do you hear those sounds ? " thundered the gaunt Ger 
man leader, rushing with drawn sword upon the scene and 
pausing breathlessly before Stephania s victim. " Do you hear 
the great bell of the Capitol, King Otto ? All Rome is in 
revolt ! Did I not warn you against the wiles of the accursed 
sorceress, who, like a vampire fed on your heart s blood ? 

369 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

But by the Almighty God, she shall not live to enjoy the fruits 
of her hellish treason." 

And suiting the action to the word, Eckhardt rushed upon 
Stephania, who stood calmly awaiting his onslaught and 
seemed to invite the stroke which threatened her We, for 
her lips curled hi haughty disdain and her gaze met Eckhardt s 
in lofty scorn. 

The sight of her peril accomplished what Stephania s efforts 
had failed to do. Swift as thought Otto had hurled himself 
between Eckhardt and his intended victim. 

" Back," he thundered with flaming eyes. " Only over my 
dead body lies the way to her ! " 

Eckhardt s arm dropped, while a wrathful laugh broke 
from his lips. 

"You are magnificent, King Otto! Defend the woman 
who has foully betrayed you ! Be it so ! We have no time for 
argument. Her life is forfeited and by the Eternal God, Eck 
hardt never broke his oath. Follow me ! We must reach the 
Aventine, ere the Roman rabble bar the way. We are not 
strong enough to break through their numbers and they swarm 
like ants." 

Otto stirred not. 

Calmly he gazed at the Margrave, as if the danger did in no 
wise concern him. And while Eckhardt stamped his feet in 
impotent rage, mingling a score or more pagan imprecations 
with the very unchristian oaths he muttered between his 
clenched teeth, Otto turned to Stephania. His voice was calm 
and passionless as one s who has emerged from a terrible 
ordeal and has nothing more to lose, nothing more to fear. 

" What will you do ? " he said. " The streets are no safe 
thoroughfare for you hi this night." 

" I know not, I care not," she replied with dead voice, 
from which all its bewitching tones had faded. 

" Then you must come with us! " he said. " My men shall 

370 



THE LAST TRYST 

safely conduct you to Castel San Angelo. You have the word 
of their King!" 

" By the flames of purgatory! Are you stark mad, King 
Otto ? " roared Eckhardt, almost beside himself with rage. 
" Come with us she shall, but as hostage for Crescentius, 
and eye for eye, tooth for tooth! " 

He did not finish. Otto waved his hand petulantly. 

" The King of the Germans has pledged his word for Ste- 
phania s safe conduct, and the King of the Germans will be 
obeyed," he spoke, his voice the only calm and passionless 
thing hi all the storm and uproar, which assailed them on all 
sides. " Through the secret passage lies her only safety. 
She cannot go as she came ! " 

Eckhardt s eyes fairly blazed with rage. 

"Secret passage!" he roared, nervously gripping the hilt 
of his enormous sword. " Secret passage ? Are you raving, 
King Otto ? What secret passage ? " 

But vainly did the Margrave endeavour to make his gestures 
explain his denial. Otto cared not, if indeed he noted them at 
all. 

He beckoned to Stephania. 

" Come with us ! " he spoke in the same apathetic, listless 
tone. " Fear nothing. You have the word of the German 
King, he has never broken it ! " 

Whether the terrible reproach implied hi his words increased 
the stifling anguish in her heart, whether she dared not trust 
herself to speak, Stephania silently turned to go. But divining 
her intent, Otto caught at her mantle. 

" Now by all the fiends ! " shouted Eckhardt, unable longer 
to restrain himself, dashing between Stephania and the King 
and severing the latter s hold on the woman " Since your 
heart is set upon it, I will not harm the " 

He paused involuntarily. 

For from Otto s eyes there flashed upon him such a ter- 

371 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

rible look that even the old, practiced warrior stepped back 
abashed. 

" Speak the word and I will slay you with my own hands ! " 
spoke the son of Theophano, and for a moment subject and 
king faced each other hi the dread silence with flaming eyes, 
and faces from which every trace of colour had faded. 

Eckhardt lowered his weapon. 

His countenance betrayed untold anxiety. 

" You invite certain destruction, King Otto," he remon 
strated with subdued voice. " What matters it, if her country 
men do slay her ? One serpent the less in Rome ! Your mercy 
leads you to perdition, what mercy has she shown to you ? " 

Otto had relapsed into his former state of apathy. 

" She goes with us," he said like an automaton, that knows 
but one speech. " Through the secret passage lies her only 
safety." 

" She will betray it and you and all of us," growled the 
German leader, whose very beard seemed to bristle with wrath 
at Otto s obstinacy. 

Otto shrugged his shoulders. 

" I have spoken! " 

" Guards, close round ! " thundered Eckhardt. " And 
every dog of a Roman who approaches upon any pretext 
whatsoever, strike him dead without word or parley! " 

The Saxon spearmen who had guarded the approach to the 
avenue gathered hurriedly round them. For at that moment 
the great bell of the Capitol, whose tolling had ceased for a 
time, began its clamour anew and the shouts of the masses, 
subdued and hushed during the interval, rose with increased 
fury. They drowned the great sob of anguish, which had 
welled up from Stephania s heart, but when Otto, his attention 
distracted for the nonce by the uproar, turned round, the 
woman had gone. 

Nor did Eckhardt, inwardly rejoicing over the revelation, 

372 



THE LAST TRYST 

grant him one moment s respite. Surrounded by his trusty 
Saxon spears, Otto felt himself hurried along towards the gates 
of his palace, which they reached in safety, the insurrection 
having not yet spread to that region. 

Vainly had he strained his gaze into the haze of the moonlit 
night. The end had come, Stephania had gone. 

When he reached his chamber, Otto sank senseless on the 
floor. 



373 



CHAPTER XV 



THE STORM OF CASTEL SAN ANGELO 




HE sun of autumn hung like 
a bloody circle over Rome, but 
seemed to give neither light nor 
warmth. The city itself pre 
sented a seething cauldron of 
rebellion. The gates had been 
closed against the advancing 
Germans and when, with the 
first streak of dawn, Haco had 
arrived under the Marian 
hill with the contingents from Tivoli, they found them 
selves before a city, which had to be reconquered ere they 
could even join the comparatively weak garrison on the 
Aventine, where Otto was a prisoner hi his own palace. During 
the night Eckhardt had assayed to reach a place of concealment 
on the Tiburtine road, where he awaited the arrival of his 
forces, which he had immediately marshalled hi their respective 
positions. Castel San Angelo rested on an impregnable rock, 
but Eckhardt had sworn a terrible oath, that he would scale 
its walls before the sun of another day rose behind the Alban 
hills; and although a rain of arrows and bolts, so dense and 
deadly that it threatened to break the line of the assailants, 
was poured into the German ranks, it did not stay their de 
termined advance. 

The first line of assault consisted of heavy-armed foot- 
soldiers with round bucklers, short swords and massive battle- 
axes. Forming in close phalanx, these men of gigantic size, 

374 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

in hauberks and round helmets, fixed shield to shield like an 
iron wall, advanced in dense array to the charge. They were 
led on the right wing by the imperial guard, whose huge 
statures, fair long hair and gleaming halberds formed a strange 
contrast to the lighter arms and the more pliant forms of the 
defenders of Castel San Angelo. 

The Roman army, which the Senator had stationed round 
the base of his formidable stronghold, could not withstand the 
shock of this tremendous phalanx, so far heavier in arms and 
numbers, and with all their courage and skill they wavered 
and broke into flight. Many were precipitated into the Tiber 
and drowned miserably within sight of their helpless comrades ; 
most of them were mowed down by the pursuing German 
cavalry or shot by the German archers. 

After the terrible defeat of the Senator s army by the first 
line of Eckhardt s battle-array, the squadrons of the second 
line of battle spread over the plain, preparatory to the last and 
final assault. The vast stronghold of the Senator looked as 
proud and menacing as ever; reared upon its almost impene 
trable granite-foundation it formed even at this date one of 
the most powerful fortresses of Western Europe. Its huge 
battlements were defended with a long chain of covered towers, 
from which Albanian bowmen shot down every living thing, 
that approached the circuit of its walls. Every attempt to 
scale the lofty stronghold with ladders had during former 
sieges been beaten off with fearful loss, after desperate com 
bats at all hours of day and night. Although he had twice 
stormed the walls of Rome, Eckhardt had never succeeded in 
capturing the fortress, which he must call his own, who would 
be master of the Seven Hills. But the wrath of the Margrave 
defied every obstacle, laughed to scorn every impediment 
which might retard his vengeance upon the cursed rabble of 
Rome, those mongrel curs, with whom rebellion was a pastime 
and for whom oaths existed but to be broken. All day long 

375 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

the Germans had hurled themselves against the massive 
walls, sustaining terrible losses, while those within the city 
were equally severe. All day long they had plied their huge 
catapults, which hurled masses of rock and iron into the city 
and fortress, keeping up an incessant bombardment. They also 
used the balista, an immense fixed cross-bar, which shot bolts 
with extraordinary force and precision upon the battlements, 
whereon nothing living could stand exposed without certain 
destruction. 

Seated motionless on his coal-black charger, like some dark 
spirit of revenge, plainly visible from the ramparts of Castel 
San Angelo, Eckhardt directed the assault of his army at this 
point, or that, according as the situation required. Many an 
arrow and stone struck the ground close by his side, but he 
seemed to bear a charmed existence and never stirred an inch 
from his chosen vantage ground. Already had a breach been 
made in one or two places in the base of the walls, yet had he 
not given the order to break into the city, but seemed to watch 
for some weak spot in the defences. It was verging towards 
evening. The besiegers could hear the cries and the rage of 
those within the walls, who dared not remain in the streets 
during the terrific rain of iron and stones hurled by the German 
machines. Despite their strenuous efforts, Castel San Angelo 
hurled defiance into the teeth of the Margrave, who demanded 
its surrender, and the task of capturing the stronghold, other 
wise than by starving the garrison, seemed to hold out smaller 
promise with every moment, as the sun hurried on his western 
course. The sky became overcast and the night bade fair to be 
stormy. 

During the assaults of the day, Eckhardt had many times 
strained his gaze towards the road leading to Tivoli, as if he 
expected some succour from that direction, when, as the sun 
was sinking in a crimson haze, a cloud of dust met the general s 
gaze and at the same moment a thunderous shout rose from 

37 6 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

the imperial hosts. Drawn by twelve oxen, there appeared at 
the edge of the plain a new engine of assault, which Eckhardt 
had ordered constructed, anticipating an emergency, such as 
the present. It had remained with the host hi Tivoli, and despite 
the comparatively short distance, it had required almost 
twenty-four hours to draw it over the sloping ground to Rome. 
It was a tower of three stages, constructed of massive beams, 
protected by frames and hides and crowned with a stout roof. 
It was now being rolled forward on broad heavy wheels to 
afford means of scaling the walls. As it slowly approached the 
ramparts of Castel San Angelo, the assault of the Germans, 
renewed on the whole line of the walls with redoubled fury, 
presented a terrific sight. The catapults and balistae were 
pouring stones, bolts and arrows on the defenders ; the whizzing 
of the missiles, the shouts of the assailants, answered by furious 
yells from the walls, the roar of the flames, as here and there 
a house near the city walls caught fire from burning pitch, 
made a truly infernal din. 

" The turret is within twenty feet of the walls, on a level 
with the ramparts, fifteen, ten feet, down with the 
scaling bridge! " shouted Haco, who was standing by the side 
of Eckhardt. Crashing, the gang-way went from the front 
of the pent house. But as he spoke, the soft earth, whereon 
the turret stood, gave way. The gang-way fell short, the turret 
toppled and split. The besieged hurled on it bolts, rocks, 
boiling pitch and fire balls, and presently it collapsed with a 
sudden crash and fell in a heap, mangling and burying the men 
inside it and beneath it, and at once it blazed up, a mass of 
burning timber. 

" It is, as I feared," said Eckhardt. " No turret lofty enough 
to overtop these walls can be brought up to work on ground 
like this. We must resort to the catapults ! Let all be brought 
into action at once ! " 

The destruction of the great, movable turret, on the success 

377 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

of which such hopes and fears had been placed, caused the 
ranks of assailants and defenders to pause for a space, while 
both were watching the spectacle of the blazing pile. A lull 
ensued hi the storm of battle, during which Eckhardt, while 
he seemed to direct his men towards a certain point near the 
walls, never released his gaze from Castel San Angelo. Then 
he gave a whispered order to Haco, who set off at once on its 
execution. An appalling crash rent the sky, as the German 
machines began their simultaneous attack on the walls of 
Rome, while a storming-column, forming under their protec 
tion, rushed forth towards the gates of the city. The strain on 
the mind of Eckhardt, who alone knew the intense crisis of 
that moment, was almost unbearable. He must succeed this 
very night; for on the morrow the peremptory order of the 
Electors would recall his forces beyond the Alps. There would 
be no respite; there could be no resistance. His only sal 
vation lay in their undaunted courage and their ignorance 
of the impending decree. 

The evening grew more and more sultry. 

At intervals a gust came flying, raising the white dust 
and rustling in the dying leaves. It passed by, leaving the 
stillness on the Aventine more still than before. Nothing 
was to be heard, save the dull, seemingly subterranean 
growls of thunder, and against this low threatening and sullen 
roar the pounding of Eckhardt s catapults against the walls. 
At times a flash broke across the clouds; then all stood out 
sharp and clear against the increasing darkness. Only the 
watchfires of Castel San Angelo were reflected hi the sluggish 
tide of the Tiber, from which rose noisome odours of back 
water, rotting fern leaves and decaying wood. 

The Piazza, of St. Peter meanwhile presented a singular 
spectacle, congested as it was with a multitude, which, hi the 
glare of the lightning, resembled one waving mass of heads, 
a cornfield before it has been swept by a tornado. It was an 

378 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

infuriated mob, which listened to the harangue of Benilo, 
interrupting the same ever and ever with the hysterical 
shout: "Death to the Saxon! Death to the Emperor!" 

" Blood of St. John! " exclaimed an individual hi the coarse 
brown garb of a smith, " Why do we bellow here ? Let us 
to the Aventine to the Aventine ! " 

His eye met that of II Gobbo the grave-digger. He 
pounced upon him like an eagle on his prey, shaking him by 
the shoulder. 

" Gobbo! Dog ! Assassin! Art deaf to good news! I 
tell thee, there is strife in the city, some new sedition! It 
may be that our friends have conquered down with the 
tyrant and oppressor! Down with the Saxon! Down with 
everything ! " 

And he laughed a hoarse, mad laughter. 

" We Romans shall yet be free, think of it, thou villain, 
a thousand curses on thee ! " 

The artisan had correctly interpreted the temper of the 
Romans, when he raised his shout : To the Aventine ! To the 
Aventine ! 

"Romans! We give our enemies red war! War to the 
knife ! " screamed the speaker at the conclusion of his harangue. 

"Death to the Saxons! Death to the King!" came the 
answering yell. 

In the midst of all this some partisan of the King ventured 
to reason with the mob. It was impossible to distinguish in 
the ensuing melee, but in the distance a man was being tossed 
and torn by the mob. For a moment his white face rose above 
the sea of heads, with all the despair which a drowning man 
shows, when it rises for the last time above the waves, then 
it sank back and something mangled and shapeless was flung 
out into the great Piazza, where it lay still. 

" To the Aventine ! To the Aventine ! " shouted the mob, 
and armed with all sorts of rude weapons they trooped off, 

379 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

brandishing their clubs and staves and shouting confused 
maledictions. 

Count Ludeger of the Palatinate, to whom Eckhardt had 
entrusted the King s safety, had made sure that all approaches 
were locked and barred, while he had disposed his spearmen 
and archers in such a manner as to make it appear, in the 
case of assault, that he commanded a much superior number, 
than were actually at his disposal. 

The warlike Count Palatine, who, aroused on an alarm, had 
instantly equipped himself with casque and sword, stood listen 
ing to what was passing outside, sniffing the air and rolling 
his eyes as it he desired nothing better than a conflict. Ar 
ranging his archers round the barred gate, with the order to 
hold their bows in readiness, he descended to the entrance 
which was surrounded by a howling mob, who demanded 
admittance or, if denied, declared they would enter by force. 
After having surveyed the assailants through a wicket, and 
having convinced himself that they were of the baser class, 
he demanded to speak with the leader of the mob. A surly 
individual, armed with a club, came boldly forward and de 
manded to see the King. 

" For what purpose ? " asked the Count Palatine. 

" That is, as we choose ! " replied the ruffian. 

By this time the archers had mounted the roof of the palace, 
while Count Ludeger stood hi the foreground. To him the 
routing of such a rabble seemed a task not worth speaking of, 
and it was not his intention to parley. He dared not open the 
gates until he was prepared to act, therefore mounting a 
balcony in the upper story of the palace, which looked over 
the entrance, he stood fully visible from where the invaders 
stood, whose numbers swelled with every moment. Then 
advancing to the parapet, he made a signal, demanding silence, 
and spoke in a voice audible to every ear in the throng : 

" Dogs ! You came hither thinking the palace was def ence- 

380 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

less. You wish to see the King. Off! Away with your foul 
odours and your yelping throats ! And If when you have turned 
tail, any cur among you dares bark back, he shall pay for it 
with an arrow through his chine ! Away with you! " 

The crowd seemed to waver and to look for their leader, 
but the Count Palatine gave them little time. Raising his 
hand he waved a signal to the archers. The low growling and 
snarling of the mob swelled to a yell of terror, as three score 
or more of their number fell under the hail of arrows. At the 
same moment the gate of the palace was thrown open and the 
guards charged the Roman mob with drawn swords, mowing 
down all that were in their path. Back fell the first rank of 
the rioters, pressing against those in the rear, and with an 
outcry of terror the crowd scattered in flight. 

From the balcony of his palace, Otto had witnessed the 
scene which had just come to a close. He saw hatred and 
vengeance around him in the eyes of the populace. He knew 
himself to be hated, deserted, betrayed, most unjustly, most 
cruelly, despite all he had done for the state and the people. 
After the mob had departed, he retreated to his chamber. 
Here his strength seemed utterly to forsake him. Calling his 
attendants, they took from him his cloak, his diadem, and 
his sword of state, they unlaced the imperial buskins and gilt 
mail, in which he was encased. He seemed eager to fling from 
him his gilded trappings, while his attendants watched him in 
perplexity and fear. He spoke not, nor gave any sign. 

At length Count Ludeger, presuming on his high office, 
broke the silence. 

" By the Mother of God, we pray you, shake off this grief 
and take heed of the manifold perils which surround your 
throne and life. You are surrounded with traitors, intrigues 
and plots ! And the one once nearest to your heart is your 
greatest foe ! " 

Otto raised his head and glared at the speaker like a lion 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

at bay, but spoke not, and again covered his face and sank 
upon the couch. 

The storm clouds gathering over Rome were scarce as dark 
as those on Count Ludeger s brow. For a time intense silence 
prevailed. At last, carried away by Otto s mute despair, the 
Curopalates ventured to approach the King and whispered a 
word hi his ear. 

Otto looked up, pale, staring. 

Count Ludeger advanced and knelt before the emperor. 

" My liege what shall I say to the Electors ? " 

There was a breathless silence. 

Then Otto raised himself erect on his couch. 

" Say to them, that I will die hi Rome hi Rome " 

He checked himself and looked round. 

" Leave me! Begone all of you! " he said. " Set double 
guards at the doors of this chamber and admit no one on pain 
of death. I choose to be alone to-night ! " 

" And may not I even share my sovereign s solitude ? " 
questioned Benilo with a look of feigned concern hi his eyes. 

" I wish to be alone ! " Otto replied, then he beckoned 
Count Ludeger to his side. After all had departed, the King 
turned to the Count Palatine. 

" Can we hold out ? " 

The Count s visage reflected deep gloom. 

" All Rome is hi the throes of revolt ! All day Eckhardt has 
been pounding the walls of Castel San Angelo to no avail! " 

" He will storm the traitor s lair," Otto replied, " but then ? " 
he questioned as one dream-lost. 

Ludeger pointed to Northward. With a deep moan Otto s 
head drooped and the scalding tears streamed down between 
bis fingers. Betrayed betrayed! Not by Crescentius, his 
natural, his hereditary foe, but by the woman whom he had 
loved, whom he had worshipped, whom he still loved above 
all else on earth. What was the possession of Rome, the rule 

382 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

of the universe, to him without her ? He could picture to 
himself no happiness away from her. 

When Otto looked up, Count Ludeger was gone. 

For a time there was stillness, deep, intense. 

A dazzling flash of light, succeeded by a deafening peal of 
thunder, that was like the wrath of a mighty God, then came 
darkness, the howling of the storm, the sobbing of bells tossed 
and broken by the hurricane, into a wraith of dirge, and 
now, as by some fantastic freak of nature, as the wind rose 
higher and higher, the iron tongue of the bell from the Capitol 
came wrangling and discordant through the air, as if tortured 
by some demon of despair. But the howlings and the tempest 
and the roar of the thunder had a third, most terrible ally to make 
that night memorable hi Rome. It was the wrath of Eckhardt, 
the Margrave, as he marshalled his hosts to the assault. Terror- 
stricken the cowardly Romans scattered before the iron 
avalanches that swept down upon them. The scythe of the 
enraged mower made wide gaps in their lists and the dead and 
dying strewed the field in every direction. Little did Eckhardt 
care how many he mangled and maimed under the hoofs of 
his iron-shod charger. Had all Rome been but one huge 
funeral pyre, he would have exulted. Rome had not been kind 
to him and the hour of vengeance was at hand at last! 

The broken clangour of the bells of Rome, the bellowing of 
the thunder through the valleys, the howling of the storm 
and the shouts of the storming files of his Germans struck 
Otto s ear hi fitful pauses. 

For this then he had journeyed to Rome! This was to be 
the end of the dream! The man he had trusted was a 
traitor! The woman whose kisses still burnt upon his lips 
had sold, betrayed him. The candle sank lower and the 
shadows deepened; but the tempest howled like a legion of 
demons over the seven-hilled city of Rome. 

What caused him to raise his head after a period of brooding, 

383 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Otto knew not, nor why the opposite wall with its drear flitting 
shadows held his gaze spellbound. To his utter discomfiture 
and amazement he saw the Venus panel noiselessly open, a 
shadow glided into the chamber and the panel closed behind it. 

Ere Otto could utter a word, Stephania stood before him. 

He rose and receded before her, as one would before a 
spectre. Hungrily, madly his eyes gazed into her pale face, 
despairingly. A strange fire was alight in her orbs, as once 
more she stood face to face with the youth, whose soul she had 
absorbed as the vampire the soul of his victim. 

With fingers tightly interlaced she stood before him, then, 
as he would not speak, she said with a strange smile : 

" You see, I have come back." 

He made no reply, but receded from her as some evil spirit 
to the farthest nook of the chamber. 

For a time she seemed at a loss how to proceed; when she 
spoke again, there was a strange, jarring tone in her voice. 

" Fear nothing ! " she said, a great sadness vibrating hi her 
speech. " I came not hither to renew old scenes. What has 
been is past for ever! Strange, that I had to come into your 
life, King Otto, or that you had to cross the line of mine, 
who is to blame ? You have once told me that you believe in 
a Force, called Fate. You have convinced me now, even 
if my own suffering had not." 

" How came you here ? " Otto spoke, hardly above a whisper. 

Stephania pointed below. 

" Through the secret passage ! " 

Otto started. 

" Mother of Christ! " he exclaimed. " Had they seen you 
they would have killed you." 

A smile of disdain curved her lips. 

" I should have welcomed the release." 

" But what do you want here and at this hour ? " 

" Your Saxons are storming Castel San Angelo. By a 

384 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

feigned attack they lured its defenders to a part of the ramparts, 
where no real danger threatened, but to scale the walls on their 
rear. Send a messenger to Eckhardt to desist. Crescentius 
is ready to treat for honourable terms." 

If there was indeed truth in her words, the message was lost 
on him, to whom it was conveyed. His heart was dead to the 
voice of gladness, as it was dead to any added pang of misery. 

" Thrice the Senator of Rome has broken his word ! His fate 
lies with himself ! " he replied with a shrug. 

Stephania s pallor deepened. 

She stared at Otto out of large fear-struck eyes. 

" You would not give him over to your Saxons ? " she 
spoke impulsively. 

" They will take him without that! " 

" Castel San Angelo has never been taken, it shall never 
be taken ! Bang Otto ! Think how many of your best soldiers 
will be crushed and mangled in the assault, be merci 
ful ! " 

" Has Crescentius been merciful to me ? I came not hither 
to deprive him of his own. I have not struck at the root of 
his life. He has taken from me the faith in all that is 
human and divine, and through you! A noble game you 
have played for my soul ! You have won, Stephania ! But the 
blood of Crescentius be on his own head! " 

There was a lull in the uproar of the elements without; 
but new banks of threatening clouds were hurrying from the 
West, gathering like armies of vengeful spirits over the Seven- 
Hilled City, and shutting off every breath of air. 

An oppression throbbing with nameless fears was upon 
them, a hush, as if life had ceased. 

Stephania, urged by a strange dread, had stepped to the 
high oval window whence a view of Castel San Angelo was to 
be obtained. And as she gazed out into the night with wildly 
throbbing heart, she grew faint and wide-eysd for terror, A 

385 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

dull roar, like muffled thunder, ceaselessly recurring, the 
terrible shouts of Eckhardt s Saxons reached her ear. 

Would the walls withstand their assault, ere she returned, 
or would the defenders yield under the terrible hail of iron and 
leave the Senator of Rome to his doom ? Like knells of destiny 
boom upon boom resounded through the wail of the rising gale. 

She pressed her hands despairingly against her temples, as 
if to calm their tempestuous throbbing, and her lips muttered 
a prayer, while broken voices came through the storm, 
fragments of a chant from near-by cloisters : 

" Ave Maria Gratia Plena Summa parens clementiae 
Nocte surgentes " 

Otto had tiptoed to the doors of the chamber and after 
carefully listening had locked them. The order he had given 
to admit no one would secure for him a few moments of 
immunity from interruption from without. Supporting him 
self against a casement he endeavoured to master the awful 
agony, which upheaved his soul at the sight of the woman who 
had played with his holiest affections; he tried to speak once, 
twice, but his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He 
thought he would choke. 

The brazen blast of a trumpet from the battlements of 
Castel San Angelo caused him to approach and to step behind 
Stephania. In the now almost continuous glare of the light 
ning troops could be seen moving slowly along the walls and 
base of the fortress. The air pealed with acclamations. A 
thousand arrows from Frisian bowmen swept the defenders 
from the walls. The battlements were left naked; ladders 
were raised, ropes were slung, axes were brandished ; of every 
crevice and projection of the wall the assailants availed them 
selves; they climbed on each other s shoulders, they leaped 
from point to point; torches without number were now 
showered on every thing that was combustible. At length a 
stockade near the central defence took fire. 

386 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

They fought no longer in darkness. The flames rolled 
sheet on sheet upon their heads, mingling their glare with that 
of the blazing horizon. But the issue was no longer doubtful. 
Castel San Angelo was doomed. No longer it vindicated its 
claim to being impregnable. The defenders, reduced in num 
ber, exhausted by the ever and ever renewed and desperate 
attacks, staring in the face of certain defeat, were becoming 
visibly disheartened. 

Spellbound, both viewed the spectacle, which unfolded 
itself to their awe-struck gaze. But there was no flush of 
victory in Otto s face, no gladness in his eyes as, sick at the 
sight, he turned away. His eyes returned to the woman 
whose half-averted face shone out in the glow of the con 
flagration. Never had it seemed to him so mystic, so unearthly, 
so fair. 

The storm was drawing nearer; the thunder bellowed 
louder through the heavens, the lightning flashes grew ever 
brighter; the great bell from the Capitol, the lesser bells of 
Rome, still shrieked forth their insistent clamour on the sultry 
air. 

She silently drew near him, fixing him with her wondrous 
eyes. 

At that moment the lightning rent the clouds and flashed 
on her pale face. A peal of thunder, now quite overhead, 
shook earth and sky, rolling through the air in majestic 
reverberations. Slowly it died away into the great silence, 
now again rent and broken by the German catapults, by the 
renewed shouts of the defenders and assailants. Up to this 
moment Stephania had still hoped that Castel San Angelo 
would defy the united assaults of the storming Saxons; sud 
denly, however, a shriek broke from her lips, she turned away 
from the window and hid her face in her hands. Then she 
rushed to where Otto was witnessing the progress of the assault 
and fell on her knees before him. 

387 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Save him ! " she moaned, raising her white clasped 
hands hi despairing entreaty. " Save him! Save him! " 

He raised her and, looking into her face, he read therein 
remorse and helpless entreaty. He knew that the moment 
was irrevocable for both, final and solemn as death. He felt 
he must break the pregnant silence, yet no word came to his 
lips. The more he forced his will, to find a solution, the more 
conscious he became of his own powerlessness and the depth 
of the abyss which must divide them for ever more. 

"Save him, Otto save him!" she moaned, stretching 
out her arms towards him, " You alone can you alone." 

He receded from her. 

" I could not save him, even if I would ! " 

But the woman became frantic in her fear. 

The consciousness of the terrible wrong which Crescentius 
had suffered at her hands, though the most subtle scrutiny of 
her heart failed to accuse her of a deed, unworthy herself, 
the unwitting instrument of Fate, added to her despair. She 
must save the Senator of Rome, even if she should herself pay 
the penalty of the crime of high treason, of which he stood 
accused. 

" You will not have it said that you crushed your foe under 
your heels," she cried. " You are too kind, too generous, 
Otto! The Senator s resistance is broken. He could not rise 
a fourth time, if he would you have conquered. Otto, for 
my sake r by the memory of the past " 

He raised his arms. Now he was himself. 

" Stop! " he said. " Why conjure up that memory which 
you have so cruelly poisoned and defiled ? There was nothing, 
even to life itself, that I would not have given to you 
in exchange for your love " 

" But that it was not mine to give ! " she moaned. " Can 
you not see ? " 

" You should have remembered that, ere you slowly but 

388 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

surely wove your net of deception round my heart. I loved 
you ! Foe of mine, as I knew you to be, I trusted you ! See, 
how you have requited this trust! See, what you have made 
of me! You but entered my life to wreck it! Once I loved 
the hours and the days and the nights and the stars, now my 
heart is a burnt-out volcano. And you who have taken all 
my life from me, now come to me crying for mercy for him, who 
showed such wondrous mercy for me! And you too you! 
Did no pity ever enter your heart, when you saw that you were 
mercilessly chaining my life to despair ? And after you re 
vealed yourself his instrument, Stephania, are you so mad 
as to think, that I would save the man who insidiously wrecked 
my life ? " 

Almost frozen with horror Stephania had listened to the voice 
she loved so well. The card she had played, the appeal to his 
generous nature, had lost. She might have foreseen it. But 
her wondrous beauty still exercised its fatal spell. The moments 
were flying. She must save Crescentius from Eckhardt s 
wrath. 

" You once told me that you loved me," she spoke with 
choked, dry throat. " You accuse me of having deceived 
you ah! how little versed you are in reading a woman s 
heart!" 

And approaching him as of old, she took his hands into 
hers. 

" What do you mean ? " Otto replied, while her touch sent 
the hot blood hurtling through his veins. " Some new conceit, 
to gain your end ? " 

She shook her head, while she gazed despairingly toward the 
Senator s last defence. 

" This is not the time," she gasped. " On every moment 
hangs a life! Otto, save him! Save him for my sake! Can 
you not see that I love you ? Think you, else I should be 
here ? Can you not see that this is my last atonement ? Oh, 

389 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

do not let me be guilty of this too ! Save him, save him, 
ere it is too late ! " she moaned, kneeling without releasing his 
hands, on which she rested her head. "Save him, save 
him, King Otto or his blood be on your head ! " 

" On my head ? On my head ? " exclaimed Otto. " Heaven 
that has witnessed your unfathomable treachery can never 
ratify this invocation ! Never! Never!" 

She glanced up despairingly. 

" Otto -he knows all! All! I saw it in his looks though 
he never spoke. He knows that I love you! " 

" Then you do love me ? " Otto replied with large wondering 
eyes. 

" Ask your own heart, it will answer for mine ! " 

" Then if you love me, be mine, my wife, my 
queen ! " 

" How can I answer you at this moment, how can I ? 
Look yonder, the stockades are afire, your Saxons are 
scaling the walls, Otto, will you have it said that you 
killed him to possess me ? " 

He snatched his hands away from her. 

"But how can I save him, Stephania ? Collect your 
woman s wit ! How can I ? " 

"Oh, how they swarm on the parapets!" she moaned. 
" Mercy, King Otto, ere it be too late ! " 

" Let not the King know the mercy in Otto s heart," he 
replied between irresolution and resentment. " But how can 
I reach Eckhardt ? And think you my messenger would move 
him ? Think you, he would listen to me ? " 

" You are the sovereign! The King! Have you none that 
you can send, that you can trust ? None, fleet of foot and 
discreet ? " 

Otto pondered. 

Stephania s gaze was riveted on his face, as the eye of 
the criminal about to be condemned, hangs on the countenance 

390 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

of his judge, who speaks the sentence. At this moment loud 
shouts came through the storm. The Germans were hoisting 
new ladders for the assault. In the glare of the conflagration 
and the incessant lightning they could be discerned swarming 
like ants. 

Castel San Angelo appeared doomed indeed. 

Otto pushed Stephania into a recess, then he made one 
bound towards the door. In the anteroom sat Benilo, the 
Chamberlain. His usually placid countenance seemed in the 
throes of a tremendous strain. Which way would the scales 
sink in the balance ? A straw might turn the tide of Fate. 
Benilo waited. He held the last card hi the great game. He 
would only play it at the last moment. 

As Otto appeared on the threshold, he glanced up, then arose 
hurriedly. 

" Victory is crowning your arms, King Otto!" he fawned, 
pointing in the region of the assault. " Soon your hereditary 
foe will be a myth a " 

Otto waved his hand impatiently. 

"Hasten to Castel San Angelo, take the secret pas 
sage! You may yet arrive in time to place this order in 
Eckhardt s hands ! Hurry - - on every moment hangs a 
life." 

" A life," gasped the Chamberlain. " Whose life ? " 

"The Senator s!" 

" Ah! It is the order for his execution! " Benilo extended 
his hand, to receive the scroll, while a strange fire gleamed 
in his eyes. He had waited wisely. 

" It is the order for Eckhardt, to spare him ! Hasten ! 
Lose not a moment ! Through the secret passage ! " 

Benilo stared in Otto s face as if he thought he had gone 
mad. 

" Spare Crescentius ? Your enemy ? Spare the viper, that 
has thrice stung you with its poison fang ? " 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" I implore you by our friendship, go ! I will explain 
all to you at a fitter hour; now there is not time." 

" Spare Crescentius ! " Benilo repeated as if he were still 
unable to grasp the meaning. 

" The Senator s men will lay no impediment hi your way, 
and to my Germans you are known. You will, you must 
arrive hi time I pray you hasten be gone " 

A sudden light of understanding seemed to flash athwart 
Benilo s pale features. Through the open door he had seen a 
woman s gown. 

Snatching up his skull-cap, he placed the order intrusted 
to him inside his doublet. 

" I hasten," he spoke. " Not a moment shall be lost ! " 

And rushing out of the chamber, he disappeared. 

Stephania had listened hi awestruck wonder. What was 
the friend of the Senator, the man who had counselled the up 
rising, doing in the imperial ante-chamber at this hour ? 
But, perchance this was but another mesh in the great 
web of intrigue, which the Romans had spun round their 
unsuspecting foes. Perhaps, she trembled, as she thought 
out the thought, he was to seize the King, if Crescentius 
was victorious. He had never left the youth. Had the 
Chamberlain become his sovereign s jailer ? The ideas rushed 
confusedly through her brain, where but the one faint hope 
still glimmered, that Crescentius would escape his doom. 

When Otto entered, she held out both hands to him. 

" How can I thank you ! " 

He warded them off, and stepped to the window, whence the 
progress of the assault could be watched in the intermittent 
flashes of lightning. The raging storm had temporarily 
drowned the signals and cries of the combatants, but though 
the clouds hung low and heavily freighted over the city, net 
a drop of rain fell. The lightning became more incessant; 
soon it seemed as if the entire horizon was ablaze and the 

392 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

thunder bellowed in one continuous roar over the Seven 
Hills. 

Stephania had stepped to Otto s side. 

" I must go," she said with indescribable mournfulness in 
her tones. " My place is by his side ! Living or dead ! 
Farewell, King Otto, and forgive if you can ! " 

She stretched out her hands towards him. It seemed to 
him, as if a dark veil was suddenly drawn before his eyes. De 
spite the lightning there was nothing but a great darkness 
around him. His victory would cause a wider, more abysmal 
gulf between them than his defeat. 

If she went from him in this hour, he knew they would never 
meet on earth again. 

At her words he turned and vainly endeavouring to steady 
his voice, he spoke. 

" Stephania, I cannot let you go! Remain here, until 
the worst is over! It would mean certain death to you, if my 
men discovered you, and perhaps you would hardly escape 
a similar fate at the hands of your own countrymen." 

She shook her head. 

" My place is by his side, no matter what befall! If I 
am killed, never was death more welcome! Farewell, Otto 
farewell " 

Her voice broke. She covered her face with her hands and 
sobbed piteously. 

He drew them down with gentle force. 

" It is not my purpose to detain you here ! All I ask of you, 
is to wait, until my order has had time to reach Eckhardt. 
After the Senator has yielded, you may go to him, I will 
then myself have you escorted to Castel San Angelo. For the 
sake of the past, wait ! " 

"The past! The past! That can never, never be re 
vived ! " she moaned. " Oh, that I were dead, that I were 
dead!" 

393 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

He took her in his arms. 

" My love, my own, I cannot hear you speak thus 
take courage ! I have long forgiven you ! " 

Her head rested on his shoulders. For a moment they seemed 
to have forgotten the world and all around them. 

Suddenly the rush of mailed feet resounded in the ante-room. 
The door of the chamber was unceremoniously thrust open 
and Haco, captain of the imperial guard, entered the apartment, 
recoiling almost as quickly as he had done so, at the unexpected 
sight which met his gaze. 

" How dare you ? " Otto accosted him with flaming eyes, 
while Stephania had retreated into the shadows, covering her 
face, which was pale as death, with her hands. 

Eckhardt s envoy prostrated himself before the King. 

" I crave the King s pardon it was my Lord Eckhardt s 
command to carry straight and unannounced the tidings to 
the King s ear your hosts have stormed Castel San Angelo! 
Your enemy is no more ! " 

" Rise ! " thundered Otto, while Stephania had rushed with 
a pitiful moan of anguish from her retreat, and was gazing at 
the messenger, as if life and death sat on his lips. " What 
do you mean ? " 

But ere the man could answer, a terrible shriek by his side 
caused Otto to start. Stephania had rushed to the window. 
Following the direction of her gaze, his heart sank within him 
with the weight of his own despair. 

A body was seen swinging from the ramparts, it needed 
neither soothsayer nor prophet to explain what had befallen. 

Eckhardt had kept his oath. 

" When the imperial Chamberlain told him that you were 
here with the King," Haco addressed the woman, who stared 
with wide-eyed despair from one to the other, " Crescentius 
charged in person the invading hosts. Struck down twice, 
he staggered again to his feet, fighting like a madman in the 

394 



THE STORM OF SAN ANGELO 

face of certain death and against fearful odds. When he fell 
the third time, Eckhardt ordered him suspended from the 
battlements to save him the trouble of rising again ! " the 
captain concluded in grim humour. 

" What of my pardon for the Senator ? " gasped Otto. 

" I know of no pardon," replied Haco. 

" The pardon of which Benilo was the bearer," Otto repeated. 

Haco stared at the King, as if he thought him demented. 

" It was the order for the Senator s execution, which the 
Chamberlain placed in Eckhardt s hand," he replied, " to take 
place immediately upon his capture." 

"Ah! This is your work then!" Stephania broke the 
terrible silence, which hung over them like suspended des 
tinies, creeping towards Otto and pointing to the ramparts 
of Castel San Angelo, on which the imperial standard was be 
ing hoisted. "This you have done to me! You have 
lied to me, detaining me here when I should have been 
with him, whose dying hour I have filled with a despair 
that all eternity cannot alleviate, let me go I tell you, let 
me go! Fiend! traitor, let me go!" 

She fought him in wild despair. 

Otto had barred her way. Releasing her, he looked straight 
into her eyes. 

" Your own heart tells you, Stephania, this is the work of 
a traitor, not mine! " 

She gazed at him one moment. She knew his words to be 
true. But she would not listen to the voice of reason, when 
her conscience doubly smote her. 

"Let me go!" she shrieked. "Let me go! My place is 
by the side of him you have foully slain, murdered 
after luring me away from him in his dying hour." 

" You know not what you say, Stephania. Your grief has 
maddened you ! Is not the word of the King assurance enough, 
that he himself is the victim of some as yet unfathomable 

395 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

deceit ? By the memory of my mother I swear to you I 
never wrote that order ! Remain here until I hear from Eck- 
hardt, your safety " 

" Who tells you that I wish to be saved ? " she cried like a 
lioness at bay. " Remain here with you, whose hands are 
stained with his blood ? Not another moment ! You have 
no claim on Stephania! A crimson gulf has swallowed up 
the past and his shade divides us in death as it has divided 
us in life ! You shall never boast that you have conquered the 
wife of the Senator of Rome ! " 

" Stephania." 

He raised his arms entreatingly. 

She sprang at him to gain the entrance to the Venus panel, 
which he covered with his person. For a moment he held her 
at bay, then she pushed him aside, rushed past him and 
disappeared in the dark passage, the door of which closed 
behind her with a sharp clang. She vanished in the subter 
ranean gloom. 

Haco had silently witnessed the scene. 

Otto seemed to have forgotten his presence, when turning 
he found himself face to face with the trusty Saxon. 

" Did you say execution ? " he addressed the man, his 
brain whirling. 

" Signed by the King ! " came the laconic reply. 

" You may go ! Bid Eckhardt repair hither at the earliest ! " 

Haco departed. Broken in mind and spirit Otto remained 
alone. Victory had crowned his cause, but Death reigned 
in his heart. 



396 



CHAPTER XVI 



THE FORFEIT 




RESCENTIUS was dead. Ste- 
phania s fate was left to the 
surmise of the victors. Since 
she had parted from Otto in that 
eventful night, no one had seen 
the beautiful wife of the luckless 
Lord of Castel San Angelo. 
Eckhardt was gloomier than 
ever. The storm of the ancient 
mausoleum had been accom 
plished with a terrible loss to the victors. The Romans, awed 
for a time into submission, showed ever new symptoms of 
dissatisfaction, and it was evident that in the event of a new 
outbreak, the small band constituting the emperor s body 
guard would not be able to hold out against the enmity of the 
conquered. The monkish processions continued day and night, 
and as the Millennium drew nearer and nearer the frenzied 
fervour of the masses rose to fever height. Fear and appre 
hension increased with the impending hour, the hour that 
should witness the End of Time and the final judgment of God. 
Since the storm of Castel San Angelo, Otto had locked him 
self in his chamber in the palace on the Aventine. No one save 
Benilo, Eckhardt and Sylvester, the silver-haired pontiff, had 
access to his person. Benilo had so far succeeded in purging 
himself from the stain of treason, which clung to him since the 
summary execution of Crescentius, that he had been entirely 
restored into Otto s confidence and favour. It was not difficult 

397 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

for one, gifted with his consummate art of dissimulation, to 
convince Otto, that in the heat of combat, the passions inflamed 
to fever-heat, his general had mistaken the order; and Eck- 
hardt, when questioned thereon, exhibited such unequivocal 
disgust, even to the point of flatly refusing to discuss the matter, 
that Benilo appeared hi a manner justified, the more so, as 
the order itself could not be produced against him, Eckhardt 
having cast it into the flames. His vengeance had not however 
been satisfied with the death of Crescentius alone, for on the 
morning after the capture of the fortress, eleven bodies were to 
be seen swinging from the gibbets on Monte Malo, the carcasses 
of those who in a fatal hour had pledged themselves to the 
Senator s support. 

So far the Chamberlain s victory seemed complete. 

Crescentius and the barons inimical to his schemes were 
destroyed. There now remained but Otto and Eckhardt, and 
a handful of Saxons; for the main body of the army had 
marched Northward with Count Ludeger of the Palatinate, who 
had exhausted every effort to induce Otto to follow him. Had 
Crescentius beaten off Eckhardt s assault, Benilo would hi that 
fatal night have consigned his imperial friend to the dungeons 
of Castel San Angelo. For this he had assiduously watched in 
the ante-chamber. At a signal a chosen body of men stationed 
in the gardens below were to seize the German King and hurry 
him through the secret passage to Hadrian s tomb. 

There now remained but one problem to deal with. With 
the removal of the last impediment, arrived on the last stepping 
stone to the realization of his ambition, Benilo could offer 
Theodora what in the delirium of anticipated possession he 
had promised, with no intention of fulfilling. He had not 
then reckoned with the woman s terrible temper, he had not 
reckoned with the blood of Marozia. She had by stages roused 
her discarded lover s jealousy to a delirium, which had vented 
itself in the mad wager, which he must win or perish. 

398 



THE FORFEIT 

But one day remained until the full of the moon, but one 
day within which Theodora might make good her boast. 
Benilo, who had her carefully watched, knew that Eckhardt had 
not revisited the groves, he had even reason to believe that 
Theodora had abandoned every effort to that end. Was she at 
last convinced of the futility of her endeavour ? Or had she 
some other scheme in mind, which she kept carefully con 
cealed ? The Chamberlain felt ill at ease. 

As for Eckhardt, he should never leave the groves a living 
man. Victor or vanquished, he was doomed. Then Otto was 
at his mercy. He would deal with the youth according to 
the dictates of the hour. 

When Benilo had on that morning parted from Otto in the 
peristyle of the " Golden House " on the Aventine, he knew 
that sombre exultation, which follows upon triumph in evil. 
Hesitancies were now at an end. No longer could he be dis 
tracted between two desires. In his eye, at the memory of 
the woman, for whom he had damned himself, there glowed 
the fire of a fiendish joy. Not without inner detriment had 
Benilo accustomed himself for years to wear a double face. 
Even had his purposes been pure, the habit of assiduous 
perfidy, of elaborate falsehood, could not leave his countenance 
untainted. A traitor for his own ends, he found himself 
moving in no unfamiliar element, and all his energies now 
centred themselves upon the achievement of his crime, to 
him a crime no longer from the instant that he had irresistibly 
willed it. 

On fire to his finger-tips, he could yet reason with the 
coldest clarity of thought. Having betrayed his imperial 
friend so far, he must needs betray him to the extremity of 
traitorhood. He must lead Eckhardt on to the fatal brink, 
then deliver the decisive blow which should destroy both. 
But a blacker thought than any he had yet nurtured began 
to stir in his mind, raising its head like a viper. Could he 

399 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

but discover Stephania! Then indeed his triumph would be 
complete ! 

On that point alone Otto had maintained a silence as of the 
grave even towards the Chamberlain, to whom he was wont 
to lay bare the innermost recesses of his soul. Never in his 
presence had he even breathed Stephania s name. Yet Benilo 
had seen the wife of the Senator in the King s chamber in the 
eventful night of the storm of Castel San Angelo, and his 
serpent-wisdom was not to be decoyed with pretexts, regarding 
the true cause of Otto s illness and devouring grief. 

But lust-bitten to madness, the thoughts uppermost in 
Benilo s mind reverted ever to the wager, to the woman. 
Theodora must be his, at any, at every cost. But one day 
now remained till the hour; he winced at the thought. 
Vainly he reminded himself that even therein lay the greater 
chance. How much might happen in the brief eternity of one 
day; how much, if the opportunities were but turned to 
proper account. But was it wise to wait the fatal hour ? 
He had not had speech with Theodora since she had laid the 
whip-lash on his cheek. The blow still smarted and the memory 
of the deadly insult stung him to immediate action. Once 
more he would bend his steps to her presence; once more he 
would try what persuasion might do ; then, should fortune 
smile upon him, should the woman relent, he would have 
removed from his path the greater peril, and be prepared to 
deal with every emergency. 

How he lived through the day he knew not. Hour after 
hour crawled by, an eternity of harrowing suspense. And 
even while wishing for the day s end, he dreaded the coming 
of the night. 

While Benilo was thus weighing the chances of success, 
Theodora sat in her gilded chamber brooding with wildly 
beating heart over what the future held in its tightly closed 
hand. The hour was approaching, when she must win the 

400 



THE FORFEIT 

fatal wager, else she dared not think out the thought. 
Would the memory of Eckhardt sleep in the cradle of a darker 
memory, which she herself must leave behind ? As hi response 
to her unspoken query a shout of laughter rose from the groves 
and Theodora listened whitening to the lips. She knew the 
hated sound of Roxane s voice; with a gesture of profound 
irritation and disgust, she rose and fled to the safety of her 
remotest chamber, where she dropped upon an ottoman in 
utter weariness. Oh! not to have to listen to these sounds 
on this evening of all, on this evening on which hung the 
fate of her life! Her mind was made up. She could stand 
the terrible strain no longer. One by one she had seen those 
vanish, whom in a moment of senseless folly she had called 
her friends. Only one would not vanish; one who seemed to 
emerge hale from every trap, which the hunter had laid, 
her betrayer, her tormentor, he who on this very eve would 
feast his eyes on her vanquished pride, he, who hoped to fold 
her this very night in his odious embrace. The very thought 
was worse than death. To what a life had his villainy, his 
treachery consigned her! Days of anguish and fear, nights 
of dread and remorse! Her life had been a curse. She had 
brought misfortune and disaster upon the heads of all, who 
had loved her; the accursed wanton blood of Marozia, which 
coursed through her veins, had tainted her even before her 
birth. There was but one atonement Death! She had 
abandoned the wager. But she had despatched her strange 
counsellor, Hezilo, to seek out Eckhardt and to conduct him 
this very night to her presence. How he accomplished it, she 
cared not, little guessing the bait he possessed in a knowledge 
she did not suspect. She would confess everything to him, 
her life would pay the forfeit; she would be at rest, where 
she might nevermore behold the devilish face of her tormentor. 
With a fixed, almost vacant stare, her eyes were riveted on 
the door, as if every moment she expected to see the one man 

401 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

enter, whom she most feared in this hour and for whom she 
most longed. 

" This then is the end ! This the end ! " she sobbed con 
vulsively, setting her teeth deep into the cushions in which 
she hid her face, while a torrent of scalding tears, the 
first she had shed hi years, rushed from her half-closed 
eyelids. 

From the path she had chosen, there led no way back into 
the world. 

She had played the great game of life and she had lost. 

She might have worn its choicest crown in the love of the 
man whom she had deceived, discarded, betrayed, and now it 
was too late. 

But if Eckhardt should not come ? 

If the harper should not succeed ? 

Again she relapsed into her reverie. She almost wished his 
mission would fail. She almost wished that Eckhardt would 
refuse to again accompany him to the groves. Again she 
relived the scene of that night, when he had laid bare her arm 
in the search for the fatal birth-mark. The terrible expression 
which had passed into his eyes had haunted her night and day. 
A deadly fear of him seized her. 

She dared not remain. She dared not face him again. The 
very ground she trod seemed to scorch her feet. She must 
away. 

The morrow should find her far from Rome. 

The thought seemed to imbue her with new energy and 
strength. How she wished this night were ended! Again the 
shouts and laughter from the gardens beneath her window 
broke on her ear. She closed the blinds to exclude the sounds. 
But they would not be excluded. Ever and ever they continued 
to mock her. The air was hot and sultry even to suffocation : 
still she must prepare the most necessary things for her journey, 
all the precious gems and stones which would be considered a 

402 



THE FORFEIT 

welcome offering at any cloister. These she concealed in a 
mantle in which she would escape unheeded and unnoticed 
from these halls, over which she had lorded with her dire, evil 
beauty. 

She had scarcely completed her preparations when the sound 
of footsteps behind the curtain caused her to start with a low 
outcry of fear. Everything was an object of terror to her now 
and she had barely regained her self-possession when the 
parting draperies revealed the hated presence of Benilo. 

For a moment they faced each other hi silence. 

With a withering smile on his thin, compressed lips, the 
Chamberlain bowed. 

" I was informed you were awaiting some one," he said with 
ill-concealed mockery in his tones. " I am here to witness 
your conquest, to pay my forfeit, or to claim it." 

Theodora with difficulty retained her composure; yet she 
endeavoured to appear unconcerned and to conceal her pur 
pose. Her eyelids narrowed as she regarded the man who 
had destroyed her life. Then she replied: 

" There is no wager." 

Benilo started. 

" What do you mean ? " 

" There was once a man who betrayed his master for thirty 
pieces of silver. But when his master was taken, he cast the 
money on the floor of the temple, went forth and hanged 
himself." 

" I do not understand you." 

A look of unutterable loathing passed into her eyes. 

" Enough that I might have reconquered the man, the 
love I once despised, had I wished to enter again into his life, 
the vile thing I am " 

Benilo leered upon her with an evil smile. 

" How like Ginevra of old," he sneered. " Scruples of 
conscience, that make the devils laugh." 

403 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

She did not heed him. One thought alone held uppermost 
sway in her mind. 

" To-morrow," she said, " I leave Rome for ever." 

With a stifled curse the Chamberlain started up. 

"With him? Never!" 

" I did not say with him." 

" No ! " he retorted venomously. " But for once the truth 
had trapped the falsehood on your tongue." 

She ignored his brutal speech. He watched her narrowly. 
As she made no reply he continued: 

" Deem you that I would let you go back to him, even if 
he did not spurn you, the thing you are ? You think to deceive 
me by telling me that the hot blood of Marozia has been 
chilled to that of a nun ? A lie ! A thousand lies ! Your virtue ! 
This for the virtue of such as you," and he snapped his fingers 
into her white face. " The virtue of a serpent, of a wan 
ton" 

There was a dangerous glitter hi her eyes. 

Her voice sounded hardly above a whisper as she turned upon 
him. 

"Monster, you who have wrecked my life, destroyed 
its holiest ties and glory in the deed! Monster, who made 
my days a torture and my nights a curse ! I could slay you with 
my own hands ! " 

He laughed; a harsh grating laugh. 

" What a charming Mary of Magdala ! " 

Her voice was cold as steel. 

" Benilo, I warn you stop ! " 

But his rage, at finding himself baffled at the last moment, 
caused the Chamberlain to overstep the last limits of prudence 
and reserve. With the stealthy step of the tiger he drew nearer. 

" You tell me in that lying, fawning voice of yours that 
to-morrow you will leave Rome, to go to him ? To give him 
the love which is mine, mine by the redeemed gauge of 

404 



THE FORFEIT 

the sepulchre ? And I tell you, you shall not! Mine you 
are, and mine you shall remain! Though," he concluded, 
breathing hard, " you shall be meek enough, when, learning 
from my own lips what manner of saint you are, he has cast 
you forth in the street, among your kind ! And I swear by the 
host, I will go to him and tell him! " 

She advanced a step towards him, her eyes glowing with a 
feverish lustra. Her white hands were upon her bosom as if 
to calm its tempestuous heaving. 

He heeded it not, feasting his eyes on her great beauty with 
the inflamed lust of the libertine. 

" I will save you the trouble," she said calmly, " I will 
tell him myself." 

" And what will you tell him ? That he has espoused one 
of the harlot brood of Marozia, one, who has sold his honour 
defiled his bed " 

" And slain the fiend who betrayed her! " 

A wild shriek, a tussle, a choked outcry, she struck 
once, twice, thrice: for a moment his hands wildly beat the 
air, then he reeled backward, lurched and fell, his head striking 
the hard marble floor. 

The bloody weapon fell from Theodora s trembling hands. 

" Avenged ! " she gasped, staring with terrible fascination at 
the spot where he lay. 

Benilo had raised himself upon his arm, fixing his wild blood 
shot eyes on the woman. He attempted to rise, another 
moment, and the death rattle was hi his throat. He fell back 
and expired. 

There was no pity in Theodora s eyes, only a great, nameless 
fear as she looked down upon him where he lay. It had grown 
dark in the chamber. The blue moon-mist poured hi through 
the narrow casement, and with it came the chimes from remote 
cloisters, floating as it were on the silence of night, cleaving 
the darkness, as it is cloven by a falling star. Theodora s 

405 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

heart was beating, as if it must break. Lighting a candle she 
softly opened the door and made her way through a labyrinth of 
passages and corridors in which her steps re-echoed from the 
high vaulted ceilings. Farther and farther she wandered away 
from the inhabited part of the building, when her ear suddenly 
caught a metallic sound, sharp, like the striking of a gong. 

For a moment she remained rooted to the spot, staring 
straight before her as one dazed. Then she retraced her steps 
towards the Pavilion, whence came singing voices and sounds 
of high revels. 

Sometime after she had left her chamber, two Africans 
entered it, picked up the lifeless body of the Chamberlain, and, 
after carrying it to a remote part of the building, flung it into 
the river. 

The yellow Tiber hissed hi white foam over the spot, where 
Benilo sank. The mad current dragged his body down to the 
slime of the river-bed, picked it up again in its swirl, tossed it 
in mocking sport from one foam-crested wave to another, and 
finally flung it, to rot, on some lonely bank, where the gulls 
screamed above it and the gray foxes of the Maremmas gnawed 
and snapped and snarled over the bleached bones hi the moon 
light. 



406 



CHAPTER XVII 




NEMESIS 

HILE these events, so closely 
touching his own life, trans 
pired in the Groves of Theodora, 
while a triple traitor met his 
long-deferred doom, and a 
trembling woman cowered fear- 
struck and tortured by terrible 
forebodings hi her chambers, 
Eckhardt sat in the shaded 
loggia of his palace, brooding 
over the great mystery of his life and its impending solution; 
meditating upon his course in the final act of the weird drama. 
But one resolution stood out clearly defined hi all the chaos 
of his thoughts. He would not leave Rome ere he had broken 
down behind him every bridge leading back into the past. 

It had been a day such as the oldest inhabitants of Rome 
remembered none at this late season. The very heavens 
seemed to smoke with heat. The grass in the gardens was dry 
and brittle, as If it had been scorched by passing flames. A 
singularly profound stillness reigned everywhere, there being 
not the slightest breeze to stir the faintest rustle among the 
dry foliage. 

How long Eckhardt had thus been lost in vague specula 
tions on the impending crisis of his life he scarcely knew, 
when the sound of footsteps approaching over the gravel path 
caused him to shake off the spell which was heavy upon him, 
and to peer through the interstices of the vines in quest of the 

407 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

new-comer who wore the garb of a monk, the cowl drawn over 
his face either for protection against the heat, or to evade 
recognition. Yet no sooner had he set foot hi the vineshaded 
loggia, than Eckhardt arose from his seat, eager, breathless. 

" At last! " he gasped, extending his hand, which the other 
grasped hi silence. " At last! " 

"At last!" said Hezilo. 

The word seemed fraught with destinies. 

" Is the time at hand ? " queried Eckhardt. 

"To-night!" 

A groan broke from the Margrave s lips. 

"To-night!" 

Then he beckoned his visitor to a seat. 

" I have come to fulfil my promise," spoke Hezilo. 

"Tell me all!" 

Hezilo nodded; yet he seemed at a loss how to commence. 
After a pause he began his tale hi a voice strangely void of 
inflection, like that of an automaton gifted with speech. 

Dwelling briefly on the events of his own life from the time 
of his arrival in Rome with the motherless girl Angiola, on 
her chance meeting with Benilo and the latter s pretence of 
interest hi his child, Hezilo touched upon the Chamberlain s 
clandestine visits at the convent, where he had placed her, 
upon the girl s strange fascination for the courtier, the latter s 
promises and advances, culminating hi Angiola s abduction. 
After having betrayed his credulous victim, the Chamberlain 
had revealed himself the fiend he was by causing her to be 
concealed in an old ruin, and, to secure immunity for himself, 
he had her deprived of the sight of her eyes. In a voice resonant 
with the echoes of despair, Hezilo described the long and 
fruitless hunt for his lost child, of whose whereabouts the dis 
consolate nuns at the convent disclaimed all knowledge, till 
chance had guided him to the place of Angiola s concealment, 
in the person of an old crone, whom he had surprised among 

408 



NEMESIS 

the ruins of the ill-famed temple of Isis, whither she carried 
food to the blind girl at certain hours of the day. At the point of 
his dagger he had forced a confession and by a sufficiently 
large bribe purchased her silence regarding his discovery. 
The rest was known to Eckhardt, who had witnessed Angiola s 
rescue from her dismal prison, as he had been present in her 
dying hour. 

There was a long silence between them. Then Hezilo 
continued his account. Step for step he had fastened himself 
to the heels of the betrayer of his child, whose name the crone 
had revealed to him. Again and again he might have destroyed 
the libertine, had he not reserved him for a more summary 
and terrible execution. He had discovered Benilo s illicit 
amour with one Theodora, a woman of great beauty but of 
mysterious origin, who had established her wanton court at 
Rome. As a wandering minstrel Hezilo had found there a 
ready welcome, and had in time gained her confidence and ear. 

Eckhardt s senses began to reel as he listened to the revela 
tions now poured into his ears. Much, which the confession 
of the dying wretch hi the rock-caves under the Gemonian 
stairs had left obscure, was now illumined, as a dark landscape 
by lightnings fom a distant cloud -bank. Ginevra s smoulder 
ing discontent with Eckhardt s seeming lack of ambition, her 
inordinate desire for power, the Chamberlain s covert 
advances and veiled promises, aided by his chance discovery 
of her descent from Marozia; their conspiracy, culminating 
in the woman s simulated illness and death; the substitution 
of a strange body hi the coffin, which had been sealed under 
pretence of premature decay, Ginevra s flight to a convent, 
where she remained concealed till after Eckhardt s departure 
from Rome: from stage to stage Hezilo proceeded hi his 
strange unimpassioned tale, a tale which caused his listener s 
brain to spin and his senses to reel. 

The monk conducting the last rites, having chanced upon the 

409 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

fraud, had been promised nothing less than the Triple Tiara 
of St. Peter as reward for his silence and complicity, as soon as 
Ginevra should have come into her own. Continuing, Hezilo 
touched upon Ginevra s reappearance in Rome under the name 
of Theodora; on the Chamberlain s betrayal of the woman. 
He dwelt on the events leading up to the wager and the forfeit, 
the woman s share in luring Eckhardt from the Basilica, and 
Benilo s attempt to poison him at the fateful meeting in the 
Grotto. He concluded by pointing out the Chamberlain s utter 
desperation and the woman s mortal fear, and Eckhardt 
listened as one dazed. 

Then Hezilo briefly outlined his plans for the night. 

Eckhardt s destruction had been decreed by the Chamber 
lain and nothing short of a miracle could save him. The 
utmost caution and secrecy were required. Benilo, whose 
attention would be divided between Theodora and Eckhardt, 
was to be dealt with by himself. The blood of his child cried 
for vengeance. Thus Eckhardt would be free to settle last 
accounts with the woman. 

Burying his head in his hands the strong man wept like a 
disconsolate child, his whole frame shaken by convulsive sobs, 
and it was some time, ere he regained sufficient composure to 
face Hezilo. 

" It will require all your courage," said the harper, rising to 
depart. " Steel your heart against hope or mercy! I will 
await you at sunset at the Church of the Hermits." 

And without waiting the Margrave s reply, Hezilo was 
gone. 

Eckhardt felt like one waking from a terrible dream, the 
oppression of which remains after its phantoms have vanished. 
The suspense of waiting till dusk seemed almost unendurable. 
Now that the hour seemed so nigh, the dread hour of final 
reckoning, there was a tightening agony at Eckhardt s heart, 
an agony that made him long to cry out, to weep, to fling 

410 



NEMESIS 

himself on his knees and pray, pray for deliverance, for oblivion, 
for absolute annihilation. Walking up and down the vine- 
shaded loggia, he paused now and then to steal a look at the 
flaming disk of the sun, that seemed to stand still hi the heavens, 
while at other times he stared absently into the gnarled stems, 
in whose hollow shelter the birds slept and the butterflies 
drowsed. 

Even as the parted spirit of the dead might ruthfully hover 
over the grave of its perished mortal clay, so Eckhardt reviewed 
his own forlorn estate, torturing his brain with all manner of 
vain solutions. 

This night, then, the night which quenched the light of 
this agonizing day, must for ever quench his doubts and fears. 
He drew a long breath. A great weariness weighed down his 
spirit. An irresistible desire for rest came over him. The late 
rebellion, brief but fierce, the constant watch at the palace on 
the Aventine, the alarming state of the young King, who was 
dying of a broken heart, the futility of all counsel to prevail 
upon him to leave this accursed city, the lack of a friend, to 
whom he might confide his own misgivings without fear of 
betrayal, all these had broken down his physical strength, 
which no amount of bodily exertion would have been able to 
accomplish. 

After a time he resumed his seat, burying his head in his 
hands. 

The air of the late summer day was heavy and fragrant 
with the peculiar odour of decaying leaves, and the splashing 
of the fountain, which sent its crystal stream down towards 
Santa Maria del Monte, seemed like a lullaby to Eckhardt s 
overwrought senses. Night after night he had not slept at all; 
he had not dared to abandon the watch on Aventine for even a 
moment. Now nature asserted her rights. 

Lower and lower drooped his aching lids and slowly he was 
beginning to slip away into blissful unconsciousness. How 

411 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

long he had remained in this state, he scarcely knew, when he 
was startled, as by some unknown presence. 

Rousing himself with an effort and looking up, he was filled 
with a strange awe at the phenomenon which met his gaze. 
Right across the horizon that glistened with pale green hues 
like newly frozen water, there reposed a cloud-bank, risen 
from the Tyrrhene Sea, black as the blackest midnight, heavy 
and motionless like an enormous shadow fringed with tremu 
lous lines of gold. 

This cloud-bank seemed absolutely stirless, as if it had 
been thrown, a ponderous weight, into the azure vault of 
heaven. Ever and anon silvery veins of lightning shot luridly 
through its surface, while poised, as it were immediately above 
it, was the sun, looking like a great scarlet seal, a ball of 
crimson fire, destitute of rays. 

For a time Eckhardt stood lost hi the contemplation of this 
fantastic sky-phenomenon. As he did so, the sun plunged 
into the engulfing darkness. Lowering purple shadows crept 
across the heavens, but the huge cloud, palpitating with 
lightnings, moved not, stirred not, nor changed its shape by 
so much as a hair s breadth. 

It appeared like a vast pall, spread out hi readiness for the 
state burial of the world, the solemn and terrible moment: 
The End of Time. 

Fascinated by an aspect, which hi so weird a manner re 
flected his own feelings, Eckhardt looked upon the threatening 
cloud-bank as an evil omen. A strange sensation seized him, 
as with a hesitating fear not unmingled with wonder, he watched 
the lightnings come and go. 

A shudder ran through his frame as he paced up and down 
the white-pillared Loggia, garlanded with climbing vines, 
roses and passion flowers, dying or decayed. 

" Would the night were passed," he muttered to himself, 
and the man who had stormed the impregnable stronghold 

412 



NEMESIS 

of Crescentius quailed before the impending issue as a child 
trembles in the dark. 

At the hour appointed he traversed the solitary region of 
the Trastevere. The vast silence, the vast night, were full of 
solemn weirdness. The moon, at her full, soared higher and 
higher in the balconies of the East, firing the lofty solitudes of 
the heavens with her silver-beams. But immobile in the 
purple cavity of the western horizon there lay that ominous 
cloud, nerved as it were with living lightnings, which leaped 
incessantly from its centre, like a thousand swords, drawn from 
a thousand scabbards. 

The deep booming noise of a bell now smote heavily on the 
silence. Oppressed by the weight of unutterable forebodings, 
Eckhardt welcomed the sound with a vague rense of relief. 
At the Church of the Hermits he was joined by the harper 
and together they rapidly traversed the region leading to the 
Groves. In the supervening stillness their ears caught the sound 
of harptones, floating through the silent autumnal night. 

The higher rising moon outlined with huge angles of light 
and shadow the marble palaces, which stood out in strong 
relief against a transparent background and the Tiber, wherein 
her reflections were lengthened into a glittering column, 
was frosted with silvery ripples. 

At last they reached the entrance of the groves. 

" Be calm! " said Eckhardt s guide. " Let nothing that you 
may see or hear draw you from the path of caution. Think 
that, whatever you may suffer, there are others who may 
suffer more! Silence! No questions now! Remember 
here are only foes ! " 

The harper spoke with a certain harsh impatience, as if he 
were himself suffering under a great nervous strain, and Eck 
hardt, observing this, made no effort to engage him hi con 
versation, aside from promising to be guided by his counsel. 
He felt ill at ease, however, as one entering a labyrinth from 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

whose intricate maze he relies only on the firm guidance of 
a friend to release him. 

They now entered the vast garden, fraught with so many 
fatal memories. At the end of the avenue there appeared the 
well-remembered pavilion, and, avoiding the main entrance, 
the harper guided Eckhardt through a narrow corridor into 
the great hall. 

A faint mist seemed to cloud the circle of seats and the 
high-pitched voices of the revellers seemed lost in infinite 
distance. In no mood to note particulars, Eckhardt s gaze 
penetrated the dizzy glare, hi which ever new zones of light 
seemed to uprear themselves, leaping from wall to wall like 
sparkling cascades. As in the throes of a terrible nightmare 
he stood riveted to the spot, for at that very moment his eyes 
encountered a picture which froze the very life-blood in his 
veins. 

In the background, revealed by the parting draperies there 
stood, leaning against one of the rose-marble columns, the 
image of Ginevra. Her robe of crimson fell in two superb folds 
from the peaks of her bosom to her feet. The marble pallor 
of her face formed a striking contrast to the consuming fire 
of her eyes, which seemed to rove anxiously, restlessly over 
the diminished circle of her guests. The most execrable villain 
of them all, Benilo, had at her hands met his long- 
deferred doom. Those on whom she had chiefly relied for the 
realization of her strange ambition now swung from the gibbets 
on Monte Malo, their executioner Eckhardt. Strange 
irony of fate! From those remaining, who polluted the hall 
with their noisome presence, she had nothing to hope, nothing 
to fear. 

And this then was the end! 

It required Hezilo s almost superhuman efforts to restrain 
Eckhardt from committing a deed disastrous hi its remotest 
consequences to himself and their common purpose. For hi 

414 



NEMESIS 

the contemplation of the woman who had wrecked his life, 
a tide of such measureless despair swept through Eckhardt s 
heart, that every thought, every desire was drowned in the 
mad longing to visit instant retribution on the woman s guilty 
head and also to close his own account with life. But the mood 
did not endure. A strange delirium seized him; the woman s 
siren-beauty entranced and intoxicated him like the subtle 
perfume of some rare exotic; mingled love and hate surged 
up in his heart; he dared not trust himself, for even though 
he resented, he could not resist the fatal spell of former days. 
The absence of Benilo, of whose doom he was ignorant, in 
spired the harper with dire misgivings. After peering with 
ill-concealed apprehension through the shadowy vistas of 
remote galleries, he at last whispered to Eckhardt, to follow 
him, and they were entering a dimly lighted corridor, leading 
into the fateful Grotto, which Eckhardt had visited on that 
well-remembered night, when a terrific event arrested their 
steps, and caused them to remain rooted to the spot. 

A blinding, circular sweep of lightning blazed through the 
windows of the pavilion, illumining it from end to end with a 
brilliant blue glare, accompanied by a deafening crash and 
terrific peal of thunder which shook the very earth beneath. 
A flash of time, an instant of black, horrid eclipse, then, 
with an appalling roar, as of the splitting of huge rocks, the 
murky gloom was rent, devoured and swept away by the 
sudden bursting forth of fire. From twenty different parts of 
the great hall it seemed at once to spring aloft in spiral coils. 
With a wild cry of terror those of the revellers who had not 
outright been struck dead by the fiery bolt, rushed towards the 
doors, clambering in frenzied fear over the dead, trampling 
on the scorched disfigured faces of the dancing girls, on whose 
graceful pantomime they had feasted their eyes so short a time 
ago. 

There was no safety in the pavilion, which a moment had 

415 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

transformed into a seething furnace. Volumes of smoke 
rolled up in thick, suffocating clouds, and the crimson glare 
of the flames illumined the dark night-sky far over the Aventine. 

Half mad with fear from the shrieks and groans of the 
dying, which resounded everywhere about her, Theodora 
stood rooted to the spot, still clinging to the great column. 
Over her face swept a strange expression of loathing and 
exultation. Her eyes wandered to the red-tongued flames, 
that leaped in eddying rings round the great marble pillars, 
creeping every second nearer to the place where she stood, 
and in that one glance she seemed to recognize the entire 
hopelessness of rescue and the certainty of death. 

For a moment the thought seemed terrifying beyond 
expression. None had thought of her, all had sought 
their own safety ! She laughed a laugh of uttermost, bitter 
scorn. 

At last she seemed to regain her presence of mind. Turn 
ing, she started to the back of the great pavilion, with the 
manifest object of reaching some private way of egress, known 
but to herself. But her intention was foiled. No sooner had 
she gone back than she returned this exit too was a roaring 
furnace. In terrible reverberations the thunder bellowed 
through the heavens, which seemed one vast ocean of flame; 
the elements seemed to join hands in the effort at her de 
struction: So be it! It would extinguish a life of dishonour, 
disgrace and despair. 

A haughty acceptance of her fate manifested itself in her 
stonily determined face. It would be atonement though 
the end was terrible! 

Suddenly she heard a rush close by her side. Looking up, 
she beheld the one she dreaded most on earth to meet, saw 
Eckhardt rushing blindly towards her through smoke and 
flames, crying frantically: 

" Save her! Save her!" 

416 



NEMESIS 

Her wistful gaze, like that of a fascinated bird, was fixed on 
the Margrave s towering stature. 

She tarried but a moment. 

At the terrible crisis, on one side a roaring furnace, 
on the other the man whom of all mortals she had wronged 
past forgiveness, her courage failed her. Remembering a 
secret door, leading to a tower, connected with a remote wing 
of the pavilion, where she might yet find safety, she dashed 
swift as thought through the panel, which receded at her touch, 
and vanished in the dark corridor beyond. Without heeding 
the dangers which might beset his path, Eckhardt flew after her 
through the gloom, till he found himself before a spiral stair 
way, at the terminus of the passage. A faint glimmer of light 
from above penetrated the gloom, and following it, he was 
startled by a faint outcry of terror, as on the last landing, to 
which he madly leaped, he found himself once more face to 
face with the woman, whom even at this moment he loved 
more in the certainty of having lost her, than ever in the pride 
and ecstasy of possession. 

Seemingly hemmed in by an obstacle, the nature, which he 
knew not, she stood before him paralyzed with horror. As 
his hand went out towards her, the gesture seemed to break the 
spell, and uttering a despairing shriek, she sprang towards a 
door behind the landing and rushed out. 

Eckhardt s breath stopped. 

A moment, he heard an outcry of inexpressible horror, 
a struggle, then a hollow dash. Hardly conscious of his own 
actions he uttered a shrill whistle, when the door of the tower 
was broken down, and the stairs were suddenly crowded with 
the soldiers of the imperial guard, whom the conflagration had 
brought to the scene. 

" What woman was that ? " exclaimed their leader, pointing 
to the place whence Theodora had made the fatal leap. 

" Whoever ahe is she must be dashed to pieces," replied 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

his companion, rushing up the stairs to the trap-door and 
throwing his lighted torch down the murky depths. But the 
light was soon lost in the profound gloom. 

" A rope ! A rope ! She must not, she shall not die thus ! " 
cried Eckhardt in mad, heart-rending despair. 

" Here is one, but it is not long enough ! " exclaimed the 
captain of the guard, hardly able to conceal his mortification 
at finding himself face to face with his general. 

" Hark ! She groans ! Help ! Help me ! " exclaimed Eck 
hardt, and tearing his cloak into strips, he fastened them to 
gether. The work was swiftly completed. These strips 
fastened to the rope and securely knotted, Eckhardt tied around 
his waist, and though the leader of the men-at-arms sought to 
dissuade him from his desperate purpose, he started down, 
clinging and swinging over a dreadful depth. 

The captain of the guard swung the torch down after him as 
far as possible, but soon the light grew misty, the voices above 
indistinct, and it seemed to Eckhardt as if he were encompassed 
by a black mist. Still he continued his descent. His next 
sensation was that of an intolerable stench and a burning 
heat hi the hand, caused no doubt by friction with the rope. 
A difficulty hi breathing, increased darkness and singing 
noises hi his ears were successive sensations ; he began to feel 
dizzy and a dread assailed him, that he was about to swoon and 
abandon his hold. Suddenly he felt the last notch of the rope 
and, not knowing what depth remained, argued that any further 
effort was in vain. Extending first one arm, then another, he 
groped wildly about, striving to shout for light; but his voice 
died hi the gloom. Gasping and almost stifled as he was, he 
made one last desperate effort, when suddenly his groping hand 
grasped something, which appeared to him either like hair or 
weeds. At this critical moment the captain of the guard 
sent down a lamp, which he had procured. It fell hissing 
in the mire, but it afforded him sufficient light to see that the 

418 



NEMESIS 

object of his search lay buried in the slime, and that she was 
gasping convulsively. Eckhardt s strength was now almost 
spent, but this sight seemed to restore it all. Noting a project 
ing ledge of stone lower down, he leaped upon it and was thus 
obliged to abandon his hold on the rope. Eckhardt seized the 
woman by the gown, dragged her from the mire and making 
a desperate leap, regained the ledge, then signalled to those 
above to draw him up by jerking the rope. 

Motionless she lay on his arm and it was only by twisting 
it in a peculiar manner round the rope, that he was enabled 
to support the terrible burden. For a time they hung sus 
pended over the abyss, yet they were gradually nearing the 
top. If he could only endure the agony of his twisted limbs 
a little longer, both were safe. He could not shout, for he felt 
that suffocation must ensue ; his eyes and ears seemed bursting 
as from some stunning weight; and a deadly faintness seemed 
to benumb his limbs. Suddenly, as by some miracle, the bur 
den seemed lightened, though he felt it still reclining in his 
arms. A wonderful support seemed to raise up his own 
sinking frame, then all grew bright and numerous faces 
strained down on him. In a few moments he was on a level with 
the floor and many arms stretched out, to help him land. 
Heedless of the roaring sea of fire in the pavilion, they carried 
the wretched woman to the landing, where they laid her on 
the floor, attempting, for a time in vain, to restore her. She 
seemed suffering from some severe internal injury and her lips 
bubbled with gore. At length she opened her eyes and with a 
shriek of agony made signs that she was suffocating and de 
sired to be raised. Eckhardt, who stood beside her, raised her, 
and as he did so, she regarded him with a wild and piteous 
gaze and murmured his name in a tone which went to the heart 
of all. 

As he bent over her, she made a convulsive effort to rise. 

" I have slain the fiend, who came between us forgive 

419 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

me if you can " she muttered, then gasping: "Heaven 
have mercy on my soul ! " she fell back into Eckhardt s 
arms. 

At a sign from the Margrave the men-at-arms withdrew, 
leaving him alone with his gruesome burden. 

After they had descended, he bent over the prostrate form, 
he had loved so well, touching with gentle fingers the soft, dark 
hair, which lay against his breast. Once, he recalled the 
mad delirium of holding her thus close to his heart. Now 
there was something dreary, weird, and terrible hi what 
would under other conditions have been unspeakable rapture. 
A chill as of death ran through him as he supported the dying 
woman in his arms. Her silken robe, her perfumed hair, the 
cold contact of the gems about her, all these repelled him 
strangely; his soul was groaning under the anguish, his brain 
began to reel with a nameless, dizzy horror. 

At last she stirred. Her body quivered in his hold, conscious 
ness returned for a brief moment, and, with a heavy sigh, she 
whispered as from the depths of a dream: 

"Eckhardt!" 

A fierce pang convulsed the heart of the unhappy man. 
He started so abruptly, that he almost let her drop from his 
supporting arms. But his voice was choked; he could not 
speak. 

A groan, a convulsive shudder, a last sigh, and 
Theodora s spirit had flown from the lacerated flesh. 

In silent anguish Eckhardt knelt beside the body of the 
woman, heedless of the hurricane which raged without, heedless 
of the flames, which, creeping closer and closer, began to lick 
the tower with their crimson tongues. At last, aroused by the 
warning cries of the men-at-arms below, Eckhardt staggered 
to his feet with the dead body, and scarcely had he emerged 
from the tower, when a terrible roar, a deafening crash struck 
his ear. The roof and walls of the great pavilion had 

420 



NEMESIS 

fallen in and millions of sparks hissed up into the flaming 
ether. 

For a moment Eckhardt paused, stupefied by the sheer horror 
of the scene. The pavilion was now but a hissing, shrieking 
pyramid of flames ; the hot and blinding glare almost too much 
for human eyes to endure. Yet so fascinated was he with the 
sublime terror of the spectacle that he could scarcely turn 
away from it. A host of spectral faces seemed to rise out of 
the flames and beckon to him, to return, when a tremendous 
peal of thunder, rolling in eddying vibrations through the 
heavens, recalled him to the realization of the moment, and 
gave the needful spur to his flagging energies. Raising his 
aching eyes, Eckhardt saw straight before him a gloomy 
archway, appearing like the solemn portal of some funeral 
vault, dark and ominous, yet promising relief for the moment. 
Stumbling over the dead bodies of Roxane and Roffredo and 
several other corpses strewn among fallen blocks of marble, 
and every now and then looking back in irresistible fascination 
on the fiery furnace in his rear, he carried his lifeless burden 
to the nearest shelter. He dared not think of the beauty of 
that dead face, of its subtle slumbrous charm, and stung to a 
new sense of desperation he plunged recklessly into the dark 
aperture, which seemed to engulf him like the gateway of some 
magic cavern. He found himself in a circular, roofless court, 
paved with marble, long discoloured by climate and age. 
Here he tenderly laid his burden down, and kneeling by 
Ginevra s side, hid his face in his hands. 

A second crash, that seemed to rend the very heavens, 
caused Eckhardt at last to wake from his apathy of despair. 
A terrible spectacle met his eyes. The east wall of the tower, 
in which Ginevra had sought refuge and found death, had 
fallen out; the victorious fire roared loudly round its summit, 
enveloping the whole structure in clouds of smoke and jets of 
flame ; whose lurid lights crimsoned the murky air like a wide 

421 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

Aurora Borealis. But on the platform of the tower there stood 
a solitary human being, cut off from retreat, enveloped by the 
roaring element, by a sea of flame! 

With a groan of anguish, Eckhardt fixed his straining eyes 
on the dark form of Hezilo the harper, whom no human 
intervention could save from his terrible doom. Whether his 
eagerness, to avenge his dead child or her betrayer, had carried 
him too far, whether in his fruitless search for the Chamber 
lain he had grown oblivious of the perils besetting his path, 
whether too late he had thought of retreat, clearly defined 
against the lurid, flame-swept horizon his tall dark form stood 
out on the crest of the tower ; another moment of breathless 
horrid suspense and the tower collapsed with a deafening 
crash, carrying its lonely occupant to his perhaps self-elected 
doom. 

All that night Eckhardt knelt by the dead body of his wife. 
When the bleak, gray dawn of the rising day broke over the 
crest of the Sabine hills he rose, and went away. Soon after a 
company of monks appeared and carried Theodora s remains 
to the mortuary chapel of San Pancrazio, where they were to 
be laid to their last and eternal rest. 



422 



CHAPTER XVIII 




VALE ROMA 

T was the eve of All Souls Day 
in the year nine hundred ninety 
nine, the day so fitly recalling 
the fleeting glories of summer, 
of youth, of life, a day of 
memories and tributes offered 
up to the departed. 

Afar to westward the sun, 
red as a buckler fallen from 
Vulcan, still cast his burning 
reflections. On the horizon with changing sunset tints glowed 
the departing orb, brightening the crimson and russet foliage 
on terrace and garden walls. At last the burning disk dis 
appeared amid a mass of opalescent clouds, which had risen 
in the west; the fading sunset hues swooned to the gray of 
twilight and the breath of scanty flowers, the odour of dead 
leaves touched the air with perfume faint as the remembered 
pathos of autumn. No breeze stirred the dead leaves still 
clinging to their branches, no sound broke the silence, save 
from a cloister the hum of many droning voices. Now and 
then the air was touched with the fragrance of hayfields, re 
claimed here and there upon the Campagna, and mists were 
slowly descending upon the snow-capped peak of Soracte. 
In the dim purple haze of the distance the circle of walls, 
a last vestige of the defence of the ancient world, stood 
a sun-browned line of watch-towers against the horizon. 
From their crenelated ramparts at long distances, a sentinel 

423 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

looked wearily upon the undulating stretch of vacant, fading 
green. 

In the portico of the imperial palace on the Aventine sat 
Eckhardt, staring straight before him. Since the terrible 
night, which had culminated in the crisis of his life, the then 
mature man seemed to have aged decades. The lines in his 
face had grown deeper, the furrows on his brow lowered over 
the painfully contracted eyebrows. No one had ventured to 
speak to him, no one to break in upon his solitude. The world 
around him seemed to have vanished, He heard nothing, he 
saw nothing. His heart within him seemed to be a thing dead 
to all the world, to have died with Ginevra. Only now and 
then he gazed with longing, wistful glances towards the far- 
off northern horizon, where the Alps raised their glittering 
crests, a boundary line, not to be transgressed with impunity. 
Would he ever again see the green, waving forests of his Saxon- 
land, would his foot ever again tread the mysterious dusk of 
the glades over which pines and oaks wove their waving 
shadows, those glades once sacred to Odhin and the Gods of the 
Northland ? Those glades undented by the poison-stench of 
Rome ? How he longed for that purer sphere, where he might 
forget forget ? Can we forget the fleeting ray of sunlight, 
that has brightened our existence, and departing has left sorrow 
and anguish and gloom ? 

Eckhardt s heart was heavy to breaking. 

As evening wore on, it was evident, that there was some new, 
great commotion in the city. From every quarter pillars of 
dun smoke rose up in huge columns which, spreading fan-like, 
hung sullenly in the yellow of the sunset. Houses were burning. 
Swords were out. In the distance straggling parties could be 
seen, hurrying hither and thither. 

" There is a devil s carnival brewing, or I am forsworn," 
muttered the Margrave as he arose and entered the palace. 
There he ordered every gate to be closed and barricaded. He 

424 



VALE ROMA 

knew Roman treachery, and he knew the weakness of the 
garrison. 

The roar of the populace grew louder and nearer, minute by 
minute. Eckhardt had hardly reached the imperial ante 
chamber, ere the crest of the Aventine fairly swarmed with a 
rebellious mob, whose numbers were steadily increasing. 
Already they outnumbered the imperial guard a hundred to 
one. 

It soon became evident, that their clamour could not be 
appeased by peaceful persuasion. Disregarding Eckhardt s 
protests, Otto had made one last effort to try the spell of his 
person upon the Romans; but hootings and revilings had 
been the only reply vouchsafed by the rabble of Rome to the 
son of Theophano. 

" Where is Benilo ? We will speak to Benilo, the friend 
of the people ! " they shouted, and when he failed to appear, 
they cried : " They have slam him, as they slew Crescentius," 
and a shower of stones hailed against the walls of the palace. 

Otto escaped unscathed. Once more in his chamber he 
broke down. His powers were waning; his resistance spent. 
The death of Crescentius, the loss of Stephania filled him 
with unutterable despair. He thought of the mysterious death 
of Benilo, whose gashed body some fisherman had discovered 
in the Tiber, and whose real character Eckhardt s account of 
his crimes and misdeeds had at last revealed to him. He knew 
now that he had been the dupe of a traitor, who had system 
atically undermined the lofty structure of his dreams, whose 
fall was to bury under its ruins the last of the glorious Saxon 
dynasty, a traitor, who had deliberately set about to break 
the heart whose unspoken secret he had read. And this was 
the end! 

" Hark ! The Romans are battering at the gates ! " Haco, 
the captain of the guard, addressed Eckhardt, entering breath 
lessly and unannounced. 

425 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Where they shall batter long enough," Eckhardt growled 
fiercely. " The gates are triple brass and bolted ! Hold the 
yelping curs hi check, till we are ready! " 

Haco departed and Eckhardt now prepared Otto for the 
necessity of flight. All Rome was hi arms against them ! This 
time it was not the Senator. The people themselves were bent 
upon Otto s capture or death. Resistance was madness. With 
out a word Otto yielded. Sick, body and soul, he cared no 
longer. A slow fever seemed to consume him, since Stephania 
had gone from him. The malady was past cure, for he 
wished to die. The mute grief of the stricken youth went to 
Eckhardt s heart. Of his own despair he dared not even think 
at this hour, when the destinies of a dynasty weighed upon his 
shoulders, weighed him down: he must get Otto safely out 
of Rome at any, at every cost. 

"Hark, below!" 

An uproar of voices and heavy blows against the portals 
rang up to their ears. 

Eckhardt seized a torch and, sword hi hand, opened the 
secret panel. 

" The back way, the garden, tis for our lives!" he 
whispered to Otto, who had hastily thrown a dark mantle over 
his person which might serve to evade detention hi case they 
met some chance straggler. The panel closed behind them and 
Eckhardt locked every door in the long corridor, through 
which they passed, to delay pursuit. They descended a flight 
of stairs, and found themselves in a hall, which through a 
ruined portico, terminated hi a garden. Here Eckhardt 
extinguished the torch and they paused and listened. 

Before them lay a deserted garden with marble statues 
and weed-grown terraces. The gravel walks were strewn with 
tiny twigs and leaves of faded summer, and stained hi places 
with a dark green mould. There was the soft splash of 
water trickling from huge mossy vases, and here and there 

426 



VALE ROMA 

through a break in the foliage, peered an arrowy shaft of 
moonlight. 

Here they were to await the arrival of Haco and his men. 
Suddenly the glint of a halberd beyond the wall caught Eck- 
hardt s ever watchful eye; he counted three hi succession on 
the other side of the wall. The Romans seemed bent to deprive 
them of their only way of flight. Eckhardt glanced about. 
The wall on the western side seemed unguarded. Here 
the Aventine fell in a steep declivity towards the Tiber. 
Eckhardt perceived there was but one course and took it 
instantly. 

At this moment Haco and his men-at-arms emerged with 
drawn swords from the laurel thickets, hi whose concealment 
they had awaited their leader and King. Motioning to Otto 
and his companions to imitate his movements, Eckhardt 
crouched down and stole cautiously along the edge of the wall. 
Meanwhile the tumult without was increased by the hoarse 
braying of a horn. Men could be seen rushing about with 
drawn swords or any other weapons close at hand, staves, 
clubs and sticks, shouting and yelling hi direst confusion. 

Amidst this uproar the small band reached the edge of the 
Tiber and their repeated signals caused a boat rowed by a 
gigantic fellow to approach. The oarsman, however, insisted 
on his pay before he would take them across. 

After they had safely reached the opposite shore they bound 
and gagged the owner of the craft, to insure his secrecy. Then 
the party sped up a narrow lane and paused before a ruinous 
house which, to judge from its black and crumbling beams, 
seemed to have been recently destroyed by fire. Here they 
waited until one of the party secured their steeds. 

During all this time Otto had not spoken a word. 

Now that he was about to mount the steed, which was to 
bear him from Rome for ever, he turned with one last heart 
breaking look toward the city. 

427 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

A desire, fierce as that of hunger, wearing as that of sleep, 
filled him, the desire of death. 

At last he rode away with the others. 

The night grew darker. The sky was full of clouds and the 
wind shrieked through the spectral branches of the pines. 
The travellers pursued their way along the well beaten tracks 
of the Flaminian Way, keeping a constant look-out for sur 
prises. They re-crossed the Tiber at a ford above the city, 
and then only they brought their steeds to a more leisurely gait. 

Gradually the ground began to ascend. 

A turn in the road brought them to a high plateau. Its 
rising knolls were crowned with broad and ancient plane- 
trees, in the midst of which towered a gibbet, from which 
swung the bodies of two malefactors, recently executed. Otto 
shuddered at the omen. Death on every turn, death at 
every step. The moon at fitful intervals cast from between 
the rifts in the clouds a feeble radiance upon desolate fields. 
A company of hungry crows rose at the approach of the horse 
men from the stubble, filled the air with their cawing and 
flapped their way swiftly out of sight. At that moment a horse 
man galloped past with great rapidity, seeming eagerly to 
scan the cavalcade. He was closely muffled and had vanished 
in the night, ere he could be hailed or recognized. 

Rome swiftly vanished behind them. After passing the 
last scattered houses on the outskirts, they finally reached the 
open Campagna. The darkness increased and the night wore 
every appearance of proving a dismal one. The wind was high 
and swept the clouds wildly over the face of the moon. 

In silence they proceeded on their way, until they espied a 
low range of hills, white on the summits with lightning. A 
dense wood skirted the road on the left for several miles. But 
as far as the eye could penetrate the murky twilight, no human 
being, no human habitation appeared. 

In the ruins of an old monastery they spent the night, and 

428 



VALE ROMA 

for the first in three, Otto slept. But his sleep did not refresh 
him, nor restore his strength. Throughout his fitful slumbers, 
he saw the pale face of Stephania, the face, which with so mad 
a longing he had dreamed into his heart, the heart she had 
broken, but which loved her still. 

Gloomily the morning light of the succeeding day broke 
upon the Roman Campagna. The sun was hidden behind a 
lowering sky and fitful gusts of wind swept the great, barren 
expanse. Undaunted, though their hearts were filled with 
dire misgivings, the small band continued their march, north 
ward, ever northward, towards the goal of their journey, 
the Castel of Paterno, perched on the distant slopes of 
Soracte. 



429 




Book the Third 

ur Lady 
of Death 



431 



" As I came through the desert, thus it was, 
As I came through the desert : From the right 
A shape came slowly with a ruddy light, 
A woman with a red lamp in her hand, 
Bareheaded and barefooted on that strand. 
A large black sign was on her breast that bowed, 
A broad black band ran down her snow-white shroud. 
That lamp she held, was her own burning heart, 
Whose blood-drops trickled step by step apart." 

James Thomson. 



432 



CHAPTER I 




PATERNO 

HE sun was nigh the horizon, 
and the whole west glowed with 
exquisite colour, reflected in the 
watery moors of the Campagna, 
as a troop of horsemen ap 
proached the high tableland 
skirting the Cimmmian foot 
hills. Not a human being was 
visible for many miles around; 
only a few wild fowl fluttered 
over the pools and reedy islets of the marshes and the lake of 
Bolsena gleamed crimson in the haze of the sunset. 

The boundless, undulant plain spread before them, its farms, 
villas and aqueducts no less eloquent of death than the tombs 
they had passed on the silent Via Appia. The still air and the 
deep hush seemed to speak to man s soul as with the voice of 
eternity. On the left of the horsemen yawned a deep ravine, 
from which arose towering cliffs, crowned with monasteries 
and convents. On their right lay the mountain chains of the 
Abruzzi, resembling dark and troubled sea-waves, and to 
southward the view was bounded by the billowy lines of the 
Sabine hills, rolling infinitely away. Beyond they saw the 
villages scattered through the gray Campagna and in the 
farthest distance the mountain shadows began to darken over 
the roofs of ancient Tusculum and that second Alba which 
rises hi desolate neglect above the vanished palaces of Pompey 
and Domitian. 

433 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

It was the day on which is observed the poetic Festa dell 
Ottobrata, a festival of pagan significance, with the archaic 
dance and garlanded processions of harvest and vintage, when 
the townsfolk go out into the country, to look upon the mellow 
tints of autumn, to walk in the vineyards, to taste the purple 
grapes, and to breathe the fragrance, filling the air with odours 
finer than the flavour of wine. The fields were mellowed to 
yellow stubble and the creepers touched by the first chill of 
autumn hung in crimson garlands along the russet hedges. 
Here and there, among the stately poplars loomed up farm 
houses with thatched roofs, which from afar resembled pointed 
haystacks on the horizon. At intervals among the crimson and 
russet leafage rose a spectral cypress, like a sombre shadow. 
In the haze of the distance crooked olive-trees raised their 
branches in tints of silver-gray. The air was still, but for an 
occasional hum of insect life. The faint, white outlines of the 
Apennines shone brilliant and glistening in the evening glow. 
The travellers passed Camaldoli with its convents reared upon 
high, almost inaccessible cliffs ; the cloisters of Monte Cassino 
had vanished behind them in silvery haze. They approached 
Paterno by a road skirted with villas and gardens, with ancient 
statues and shady alleys. The proximity of the mountains 
made the air chill; here and there a ray of sunlight filtered 
through the branches of the plane-trees. 

High Paterno towered above, among its rocks and steeps. 

Ever since their flight from Rome, Otto had been in the 
throes of a benumbing lethargy, which had deprived him of 
interest hi everything, even life itself. Vain had been his 
companions effort to rouse him from his brooding state, 
vainly had they pointed out to him the beauties of the land 
scape. Was it the ghost of Johannes Crescentius, the Senator 
of Rome, that was haunting the son of Theophano ? 

After having crossed a swinging bridge, which swayed to 
and fro under the weight of their iron mail, they arrived at a 

434 



PATERNO 

narrow causeway, above which, like some contemplative 
spirit above the conflicting problems of life, rose the cloisters, 
environing the ancient Castel of Paterno. Eckhardt knocked 
at the barred gate with the hilt of his sword, whereupon a 
monk appeared at the window of a tower above the portcullis, 
and after reconnoitring, set some machinery in motion, by 
which the portcullis was raised. They then found themselves 
in a long, narrow causeway cut in the rock. The monk who 
had admitted them disappeared; another ushered them into 
the great hall of the cloister. The air was full of the lingering 
haze of incense, and traces of devotional paintings on the 
weather-beaten walls appeared like fragments of prayers hi a 
world-worn mind. 

The hall had been made from a natural cavern and was of 
an exceedingly gloomy aspect, being of great extent, with deep 
windows only on one side, hewn hi the solid granite. It was 
at intervals crossed by arches, marking the termination of 
several galleries leading to remoter parts of the monastery. 
In the centre was a long stone table, hewn from the rock; a 
pulpit, supported on a pillar was similarly sculptured hi the 
wall. Five or six pine-wood torches, stuck at far intervals 
in the granite, shed a dismal illumination through the gloom, 
enhanced rather than diminished by the glow of red embers 
on a vast hearth at the farthest extremity of the hall. 

Eckhardt was about to prefer his request to the monk, who 
had conducted them hither, when he was interrupted by the 
entrance of the abbot and a long train of monks from their 
devotions. The monks advanced La solemn silence, their 
heads sunk humbly on their breasts; their superior so worn 
with vigils and fasts, that his gaunt and powerful frame 
resembled a huge skeleton. He was the only one of the group 
who uttered a word of welcome to his guests. 

After having ordered Haco to attend to the wants of his 
lord, Eckhardt sought a conference with the abbot on matters 

435 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

which lay close to his heart. For his sovereign was ill and 
his illness seemed to defy human skill. The abbot listened to 
Eckhardt s recital of the past events, but his diagnosis was far 
from quieting the latter s fears. 

" You learn to speak and think very dismally among these 
great, sprawling pine forests," Eckhardt said moodily, at the 
conclusion of the conference. 

"We learn to die!" replied the monk with melancholy 
austerity. 

Consideration for his sovereign s safety, however, prompted 
Eckhardt, who had been informed that straggling bands of 
their pursuers had followed them to the base of the hill, to 
continue that same night under guidance of a monk, the 
ascent to the almost impregnable heighths of Castel Paterno. 
Here Otto and his small band were welcomed by Count Tam- 
mus, the commander, who placed himself and his men-at- 
arms at the disposal of the German King. 



436 



CHAPTER II 



MEMORIES 




TTO found himself in a state 
chamber, whose gloomy vast- 
ness was lighted, or rather 
darkened by one single taper. 
Through the high oval windows 
in the deep recess of the wall 
peered an errant ray of moon 
light, which illumined the quaint 
monastic paintings on the walls, 
and crossing the yellow candle 
light, imbued them with a strange ghostly glare. 

When his host had ministered to his comfort and served 
him with the frugal fare of the cloister, Otto hinted his desire 
for sleep, and his trusty Saxons entered on their watch 
before their sovereign s chamber. 

At last, left alone, Otto listened with a heavy heart to the 
monotonous tread of the sentries. It seemed to him as if he 
could now take a survey of the events of his life, and pass sen 
tence upon it with the impartiality of the future chronicler. 
Recollection roused up recollection; and as in a panorama, 
the scenes of his short, but eventful career passed in review 
before his inner eye. He thought of what he was, contrasting 
it painfully with all he might have been. The image of the one 
being, for whom his soul yearned in its desolation, with the 
blinding hunger of man for woman and woman s love, rose up 
before his eyes, and for the first time he thought of death, 
death, hi its full and ghastly actuality. 

437 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

What was it, this death ? Was it a sleep ? Merely the 
absence, not the privation of those powers and senses, called 
life ? What sort of passage must the thinking particle pass 
through, whatever it may be, ere it stood naked of its clay ? 
The breaking of the eyes hi darkness, what then succeeded ? 
Would the thinking atom survive, would it become the 
nothing that it was ? 

The aspect of the chamber was not one to dispel the gloomy 
visions that haunted him. It was scantily furnished in the 
crude style of the tenth century, with massive tables and 
chairs. A curious tapestry of eastern origin, representing some 
legend of the martyrs, divided it from an adjoining cabinet 
serving at once as an oratory and sleeping apartment. A low 
fire, burning in the chimney to dispel the miasmas of the 
marshes, shed a crimson glow over the chamber and its lonely 
inmate. 

For a long time those who watched before his door heard 
him walk restlessly up and down. At last weariness came over 
him and he threw himself exhausted into a chair. Then the 
haunting memory of Stephania conjured up before his half- 
dreaming senses an alluring, shimmering Fata Morgana 
a castle on one of those far-away Apulian head-lands, with 
their purpling hills hi the background and the scent of strange 
flowers in the air. On many a summer morning they should 
walk hand hi hand through the Laburnum groves, and find 
their love anew. But the amber sheen of the landscape faded 
into the violet of night. The vision faded into nothingness. 
A peal of thunder reverberated through the heavens, Otto 
started with a moan, rose, and staggered to his couch. 

He closed his eyes ; but sleep would not come. 

Where was she now ? Where was Stephania ? Weeks 
had passed, since they had last met. It seemed an eternity 
indeed ! He should have remained in Rome, till he was assured 
of her fate ! She had left him with words of hatred, of scorn, 

438 



MEMORIES 

bitter and cruel. And yet! How gladly he would have saved 
the man, his mortal enemy, forsooth, had it lain in his power. 
Gladly? No ! The man who had thrice forsworn, thrice 
broken his faith, deserved his doom. Now he was dead. But 
Rome was lost. What mattered it ? There was but one 
devouring thought in Otto s mind. Where was Stephania ? 
The mad longing for her became more intense with every 
moment. Now that the worst had come to pass, now that the 
stunning blow had fallen, he must rouse himself, he must 
rally. He must combat this fever, which was slowly consum 
ing him; he must find her, see her once more on earth, if but 
to tell her how he loved her, her and no other woman. Would 
the pale phantom of Crescentius still stand between them, 
still part them as of yore ? Not if their loves were equal. His 
hands were stainless of that blood. On the morrow he would 
despatch Haco to Rome. Surely some one would have seen 
her; surely some one knew where the wife of the Senator of 
Rome was hiding her sorrow, her grief. 

The dim light of the ceremonial lamp, which burned with 
a dull, veiled flame before an image of the crucified Christ, 
flickered, as if fanned by a passing breath. 

There was deep silence in the king s bed-chamber, and the 
drawn tapestry shut out every sound from without. 

Noiselessly a secret panel in the wall opened behind Otto s 
couch. Noiselessly it closed in the gray stone. Then an 
exquisite white hand and arm were thrust through the draperies 
and the lovely face of Stephania beamed on the sleeping youth. 
She was pale as death, but the transparency of her skin and 
the absolute perfection of her form and features made her the 
image of an Olympian Goddess. Her dark hair, bound by a 
fillet of gold, enhanced the marble pallor of the exquisite 
face. 

Never had the wonderful eyes of Stephania seemed so full 
of fire and of life. Stooping over the sleeper, she softly en- 

439 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

circled his head with her snowy arms and pressed a long kiss 
on the dry, fevered lips. 

With a moan Otto opened his eyes. For a moment he 
stared as if he faced an apparition from dream-land. His 
breath stopped, then he uttered a choked outcry of delirious 
joy, while his arms tightly encircled the head which bent over 
him. 

" At last! At last! At last! Oh, how I have longed, how 
I have pined for you ! Stephania my darling my love 
tell me that you do not hate me but is it you indeed, is it 
you ? How did you come here the guards, Eckhardt, " 

He paused with a terrible fear in his heart, ever and ever 
caressing the dark head, the beloved face, whose eyes held his 
own with their magnetic spell. She suffered his kisses and 
caresses while stroking his damp brow with soothing hand. 
Then with a grave look she enjoined silence and caution, 
crept to the door of the adjoining room and locked it from 
within. 

" They guard you so well, not a ghost could enter," she 
said with the sweet smile of by-gone days. 

He arose and drew the curtains closer. Then he sat down 
by her side. 

" How came you here, Stephania ? " he whispered with 
renewed fear and dread. " If you are discovered, God have 
mercy on you, and me ! " 

She shook her head. 

" I have followed you hither from Rome, I passed you 
on the night of your flight. Count Tammus, the commander of 
Paterno, at one time the friend of the Senator of Rome, has 
offered me the hospitality of the castello. No one knows of my 
presence here, save an old monk, who believes me some 
itinerant pilgrim, in search of the End of Time," she whispered 
with her far-away look. " The End of Time." 

" They say it is close at hand," Otto replied, holding her 

440 



MEMORIES 

hands tightly hi his. " Oh, Stephania, how beautiful you are! 
That which has broken my spirit, seems not to have touched 
your life ! " 

"My life is dead," she replied. "What remains, re 
mains through you. Therefore time has lacked power. But 
that which has been and is no more, stands immovable before 
my soul." 

He gazed at her with large fear-struck eyes. 

" Then your heart is no longer mine ? " 

The grasp of the hands hi his own tightened. 

" Would I be here, silly dreamer ? I love you my heart 
knows no change. It loved but once and you! " 

All the happiness, slumbering in the deep eyes of the son of 
Theophano, burst forth as in a glorious aureole of light. 

" Then you have never " 

She raised her hand forbiddingly. 

" I could not give to him who is gone that which I gave to 
you ! When we first met I was your foe. I hated you with all 
the hate which a Roman has for the despoiler of his lands. 
When I gave you my love, which, alas, was not mine to 
give, I did so, a powerless instrument of Fate. Side by side 
have we trod life s narrow path, neither of us could turn 
to right or left without standing accounted to the other. It 
was not ours to say love this one or that other. We were 
brought together by that same mysterious force, to which it is 
vain to cry halt. We knew, I knew, that it must, 
sooner or later, carry us to doom and death; but resistlessly 
the whirlwind had taken us up in its glistening cloud: Thus 
are we lost; you and I! " 

He listened to her with a great fear hi his soul. 

" How cold your hands are, my love," he whispered. " Cold 
as if the flow of blood had ceased. Can you feel how it rushes 
through my veins, so hot so boiling hot ? " 

" You have the fever ! Therefore my hands appear cold to 

441 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

you. But, you spoke truly, in my hand is death, and 
death is cold! Life I have none, you have taken it from 
me!" 

"Stephania!" 

It sounded like the last outcry of a broken heart. 

" Why recall that which could not be averted ? Were it 
mine to change it, oh, that I could ! " 

" Do you really wish it ? " 

" I wish but your happiness. Can you doubt ? " 

" I do not doubt. I love you! " 

" Stephania my darling, my all! " 

And he kissed her eyes, her lips, her hair, and she suffered 
his caresses as one wrapt hi a blissful dream. 

" I learned you were stricken with the fever, the last 
defence left to us by nature against our foes. I have come, to 
watch over you, to care for you, to nurse you back to 
health, to life " 

" And you braved the dangers that beset your path on every 
turn ? " 

" How should I fear, with such love hi my heart for 
you ! " 

" Then you will remain ? " he whispered, his very life in 
his eyes. 

" For a time," she answered, hi a halting tone, which passed 
not unremarked. 

" And then ? " he queried. 

Her head sank. 

" I know not! " 

" Then I will tell you, my own love ! We will return to 
Rome together, you and I; Stephania, the empress of the 
West, would not that reconcile your Romans, appease 
their hate ? " 

Stephania gazed for a moment thoughtfully at Otto, then 
she shook her head. 

442 



MEMORIES 

" I fear," she replied after a pause, " we shall nevermore 
return to Rome." 

As she spoke, her soft fingers stroked caressingly the youth s 
head, which rested on her bosom, while her right hand remained 
tightly clasped hi his. 

" I do not understand you," he said with a pained look. 

" Do not let us speak of it now," she replied. " You are 
ill; the fever burns in your blood. It likes you well, this 
Roman fever, and yet you persist hi returning hither ever 
and ever, as to your destiny " 

" You are my destiny, Stephania! I cannot live without 
you! Had you not come, I should have died! God, you 
cannot know how I love you, how I worship you, how I wor 
ship the very air you breathe. Stephania! On that terrible, 
never-to-be-forgotten day, when your words planted death hi 
my heart, he, who of all my Saxons hates you with a hatred 
strong and enduring as death, warned me of you! Must you 
love a Roman, he said to me and of all Romans, Stephania, 
the wife of the Senator ? Once in the toils of the Sorceress, 
you are lost! Nothing can save you. Can I say to my 
heart, you shall love this one, or you shall not love this one ? 
Shall I say to my soul, you shall harbour the image of this 
one, but that other shall be to you even as a barred Eden, 
guarded by the angel with the naming sword ? I have seen the 
maidens of my native land ; I have seen the women of Rome ; 
but my heart was never touched until we met. My soul leaped 
forth to meet your own, when first we stood face to face in 
the chapel of the Confessor. Stephania, my love for you 
is so great that I fear you." 

" And why should you fear me ? Were I here, did I not love 
you ? " 

" My life has been a wondrous one," he spoke after a 
pause. " From dazzling sun-kissed heights I have been 
hurled into the blackest abyss of despair. And what is my 

443 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

crime ? Wherein have I sinned ? I have loved a woman, 
a woman wondrous fair, Stephania ! " 

" You have loved the wife of the Senator of Rome ! " 

His eyes drooped. For a time neither spoke. 

" Thrice have I crossed the Alps, to see, to rule this fabled 
land, and now I want but rest, peace, Stephania " 
he said with a heart-breaking smile. 

" You are tired, my love," replied the beautiful Roman. 
" From this hour, I shall be your leech, I shall be with you, 
to share your solitude, to watch over you till the dread 
fever is broken. And then " 

" And then ? " he repeated with anxious look. 

" But will you not weary of me ? " she said, avoiding the 
question. 

He drew her close to him. 

" My sweetheart my own " 

" And you will not fear, you will trust and obey me ? " 

" Were you to give me poison with your own hands, I would 
drain the goblet without fear or doubt." 

Stephania had arisen. She was pale as death. 

" If love were all! " she muttered. " If love were all ! " 

Then she drew the curtains closer and extinguished the light. 



444 



CHAPTER III 




THE CONSUMMATION 

OME weeks had elapsed since 
Otto s arrival at Paterno. But 
the fever which consumed the 
son of Theophano had not 
yielded to the skill of the monk 
ish mediciners, though a change 
for the better had been noticed 
after the first night of the King s 
arrival. But it lasted only a 
short time and all the danger 
symptoms returned anew. The monks shook their heads and 
the hooded disciples of Aesculapius conversed hi hushed 
whispers, regarding the strange ailment, which would not 
cede before their antidotes. But they continued their un 
availing efforts to save the life of the last of the glorious 
Saxon dynasty, the grandson of the vanquisher of the Magyars, 
the son of the vanquisher of the Saracens. 
It was a bleak December evening. 

At sunset a mist rose from the fields and the clouds grew 
heavier with every hour. The ram-drops hung on the branches 
of the plane-trees, until an occasional stir sent them pattering 
down. 

Otto lay within, asleep. 

In the door-way sat Eckhardt, muffled in a cloak. Near-by, 
half recumbent under a blanket, the cowl drawn over his face, 
sat the leech, his eyes fixed upon the log-fire on the hearth, as 
it sent showers of sparks into the murky darkness. In their 

445 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

search for fire-wood the monks had brought from the edge of 
a neighbouring mill-pond the debris of a skiff, whose planks 
had for years been alternately soaked in water and dried hi the 
sun. When tossed upon the blaze of forest branches, these 
fragments emitted an odour sweet as oriental spices and their 
flames brightened with prismatic tints. But to the leech s 
brooding gaze their lurid embers seemed touched with the 
spell of some unholy incantation. 

Without the sick-chamber two sentries, chilled and drowsy, 
leaned against a column supporting the low vaulting, their 
halberds clasped between their folded arms. 

After a pause of some duration, Eckhardt arose and entering 
Otto s chamber bent over the couch on which he lay. After 
having convinced himself by the youth s regular breathing 
that he was resting and did not require his attendance, the Mar 
grave strode from the sick-chamber. The fever was inter 
mittent; now it came, now it left the youth s body. But the 
pale wan face and the sunken eyes gave rise to the gravest fears. 

Night came swiftly and with it the intense hush deepened. 
Only the pattering of ram-drops broke the stillness. In the 
sick-chamber nothing was to be heard save the regular breath 
ing of the sleeper. 

Thus the hours wore on. After the monk and Eckhardt had 
departed for the night, the secret panel opened noiselessly and 
Stephania entered the apartment with a strange expression of 
triumph and despair in her look. She glanced round, but her 
eyes passed unheedingly over their surroundings ; she saw only 
that there was no one hi the chamber, that no one had seen 
her enter. There was something utterly desperate in that 
glance. Noiselessly she stepped to the narrow oval window 
gazing out into the mist-veiled landscape. 

But it seemed without consciousness. 

A single thought seemed to have frozen her brain. 

She stepped to Otto s couch and for a moment bent over him. 

446 



THE CONSUMMATION 

Then she retreated, as if seized with a secret terror. 

For a few moments she stood behind him, with closed eyes, 
her face almost stony with dread and the fear of something 
unknown. 

Near the bed there stood a pitcher which the monks re 
plenished every evening with water cold from a mountain 
spring. Approaching it, she took a powder from her bosom 
and shook it into it, every gram. Then she turned the pitcher 
round and round, to mix the fine powder, which stood on the 
surface. Suddenly she started, and set it down, while scalding 
tears slowly coursed down her pale cheeks. Desperate thoughts 
crowded thickly on her brain, as her stony gaze was riveted on 
the water, whose crystal clearness had not been clouded by 
the subtle poison. 

" Between us stands the shade of Crescentius," she muttered. 
" Still I can not cease to love him, each bound to each, 
together, yet perpetually divided, our love a flower that the 
hand of death will gather." 

Again there was a long, intense hush. She crept to Otto s 
bed and knelt down by his side, hiding her wet face on her 
bare arms. 

" When he is dead," she continued speaking softly, so as 
not to wake him, " the unpardonable sin will be condoned. 
Otto, Otto, how I love you, if I loved you less, you 
might live " 

At these words he stirred in the cushions. A deep sigh 
came from his lips, as if the mountain of a heavy dream had 
been lifted from his breast. 

She drew back terrified, but noting that he did not open his 
eyes, she spoke with a moan of weariness: 

" How often thus hi my dreams have I seen his dead face " 

Again she bent over the sleeper. Now she could not discern 
a breath. A strange dread seized her, and her face became as 
wan and haggard as that of the fever-stricken youth. Obeying 

447 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

a sudden impulse she removed the pitcher of water, placing it 
hi a remote niche. Then she crept back to Otto s couch. 

" Is he dead ? " she whispered, as if seized by a strange 
delirium. " Is he dead ? I know not, yet none knows, 
but I! None, but I!" 

She gave a start, as if she had discovered a listener, glanced 
wildly about the room, at each familiar object in the chamber, 
and met Otto s eyes. 

She raised herself with a gasp of terror, as he grasped her 
hand. 

" Who is dead ? " he asked. " And who is it, that alone 
knows it ? " 

She stroked the soft fair hair from his clammy brow. 

" You are delirious, my love," she whispered. " No one is 
dead; you have been dreaming." 

" I thought I heard you say so," he replied wearily. 

The horror and bewilderment at his awakening at this 
moment of all, when she required all her strength for her 
purpose, left her dazed for a moment. 

The clock struck the second hour after midnight. The 
sound cut the air sharply, like a stern summons. It seemed to 
demand : Who dares to watch at this hour of death ? 

Otto had again closed his eyes. Delirium had regained its 
sway. He was whispering, while his fingers scratched on the 
cover of his couch, as if he were preparing his own grave. 

Again he relapsed into a fitful slumber, filled with dreams 
and visions of the past. 

He stands at the banks of the Rhine. The night is still. The 
moon is hi her zenith, her yellow radiance reflected in the calm 
majestic tide of the river. He hears the sighing, droning 
swish of the waters; the sinuous dream-like murmuring of 
the waves resolving into tinkling chimes, far-away and plain 
tive, that steal up to him in the moon mists, ravishing his 
soul. In cadenced, languorous rhythm the song of the Rhine- 

448 



THE CONSUMMATION 

daughters weeps and wooes through the night; their shim 
mering bodies gleam from the waters in a silvery sphere of 
light; they seem to beckon to him to call to him to 
lure him back 

" Home! Home! " he cries from the depths of his dream; 
then his voice becomes inarticulate and sinks into silence. 

New phantoms crowded each other, a shifting phantas 
magoria of the very beings who at that dreadful hour were 
most vividly fixed in his mind. And among them stood out 
the image of the woman, who was kneeling at his side, the 
woman he loved above all women on earth. Again his lips 
moved. He called her by name, with passionate words of love. 

" Let me not die thus, Stephania ! Leave me not in this 
dreary abyss! Oh! Drive away those infernal spectres that 
stare in my face," and his words became wild and confused, 
as all these phantoms seemed to rush on him together, forming 
lurid groups, flaming and tremulous, like prolonged flashes of 
lightning, but growing fainter and fainter as they died away, 
when every faculty of the young sufferer seemed utterly sus 
pended. 

Dark clouds passed over the moon. 

The wind blew in fierce gusts, howling like an imprisoned 
beast between the chinks of the wall. Then the night relapsed 
once more into silence, and in intermittent pauses large drops 
of rain could be heard, splashing from the height of the roof 
upon the ringing flagstones. To Stephania s listening ear 
it seemed like a dreadful pacing to and fro of spirits meditating 
on the past. She dragged herself to a seat in a recess of the 
wall, whence she could watch the sufferer and minister to his 
wants. 

Another fit of delirium seized Otto. Restlessly he tossed on 
his pillows. Again a dream murmured his own impending 
fate into his ears. 

Again he is in Aix-la-Chapelle. Again he beholds Charle- 

449 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

magne seated erect in his chair as in that memorable night 
when he visited the dead emperor in the crypts. He touches 
the imperial vestments; the crown glitters hi the smoky flare 
of the torches. But through the heavy Arabian perfumes of 
the emperor s fantastic shroud penetrates the odour of the 
corpse. 

The night wore on. 

Recovering consciousness, Otto knew by the dying candle, 
by the strokes of the clocks from adjacent cloisters, that hours 
had passed into eternity, and that it was long past midnight. 
It was very still. The tread of the sentries was no longer 
heard. Through the window were seen pale blue flashes of 
lightning hi a remote cloudbank, as on that memorable night 
hi the temple of Neptune at Rome. The dull rumbling of dis 
tant thunder seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. 

His head ached, his mouth was parched, thirst tormented 
him. He dimly remembered the pitcher of water. Who had 
removed it ? Why had it been taken away ? He tried to rise, 
to drag himself to the wall, but his strength was not equal to 
the task. He fell back hi the cushions where for a time he lay 
motionless. Then a moan broke from his lips, which startled 
the figure seated by the bed. Opening his eyes Otto gazed into 
the pale face of Stephania. She started up with a low cry, 
as from a trance. Waking and watching had benumbed her 
senses. 

Now from her own suffering she lifted to Otto her face, 
wherein was reflected the great love she bore him. 

He looked at her with all the love of his soul in his eyes. 

" I am dying," he spoke calmly, " I know it." 

An outcry of mortal anguish broke from her lips. 

" No, no, no ! " she moaned, entwining him with her arms. 
"Otto, my love you will live, live live Can you 
fancy us parted," she sobbed, " one from the other for ever ? 
Or can you go from me and leave me to the great loneliness of 

450 



THE CONSUMMATION 

the world ? To me all on earth, but you, seems a fleeting 
shadow; but hi this hour, I think only of the greater pang of 
my own fate, and pray that in another world I may be judged 
more mercifully, even by you." 

For some moments they remained locked hi close embrace. 

" Kiss me ! " he whispered hungrily. " Kiss me, Stephania ! " 

She drew back. 

" My kisses are cold, Otto, cold as those of a dead love." 

" Kiss me, Stephania," he moaned, " kiss me, even if your 
kisses were death itself." 

She breathed hard, as he held to her with all his might. 

" A dead hand is drawing me downward, hold me up, 
Otto! " she gasped. " Hold me up! Do not let me go! Do 
not let me go ! " 

And she kissed him, until he was almost delirious, drawing 
him close to her heart. 

"Now you are mine mine mine!" she whispered, 
kissing him again and again, while his fingers were buried hi 
the soft, silken wealth of her hair. 

"The hour is brief, life is short and uncertain oh, 
let the hour be ours ! Let us drain the glittering goblet to the 
dregs! Then we may cast it from us and say we have been 
happy ! Death has no terror for us ! I am thirsty, Stephania, 
give me the pitcher." 

She trembled in every limb. 

" Do not let me go! Hold me, Otto, do not let me go! " 
she almost shrieked, entwining him so tightly with her arms 
that he could scarcely breathe. 

"I feel the fever returning the water Stephania " 

" Do not let me go ! " she begged with mortal dread. 

" I am burning up." 

He struggled hi her arms to rise, gasping: 

"Water Water!" 

And he pointed to the niche, where he had espied the pitcher. 

45i 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

She almost dropped him, as raising himself he pushed her 
from him. Her head swam giddily and she felt a feebleness in 
all her limbs; shudders of icy cold ran through her, followed 
by waves of heat, that sickened and suffocated her. But 
she paid little heed to these sensations. Stephania felt death 
in her heart, she strove to sustain herself, but failing in the 
effort, fell moaning across his couch. 

Otto had fallen back on his pillows with eyes closed. He 
was spared the sight of the terrible agony of the woman he 
loved. At last she clutched the pitcher and staggering feebly 
forward, step by step, she pushed back her hair from her 
brows and softly called his name. 

He opened his eyes, but did not speak. 

Trembling hi every limb she bent over him and placing one 
hand under his head raised him to a sitting posture, glancing 
fear-struck round the chamber. She thought she had heard 
the tread of approaching steps. 

Greedily Otto grasped the vessel, pressing his hot hands 
over the woman s which held it to his lips. Greedily he drank 
the poisoned beverage, while a heart-breaking moan came from 
Stephania s lips. He heard it not. He sank back into the 
cushions, while she knelt down by his side, weeping as if her 
heart would break. 

The Senator of Rome was avenged. 

Avenged ? On whom ? Whose tortures were the greater, 
if a spirit still possessed the power to suffer ? Alas ! It was 
not the death of her lord and husband she had avenged! She 
had sacrificed the love which filled her heart to the Infernals! 

While these reflections were whirling through her maddened 
brain, the fatal poison was coursing serpent-like through 
Otto s veins, and creeping to his head. For a time he lay still; 
then he began to move uneasily in his pillows, his breathing 
became laboured, he beat the covers with his hands. Then he 
moaned, as in the last agony, and Stephania, to whom every 

452 



THE CONSUMMATION 

sound of suffering from his lips was as a thousand deaths, 
knelt by his side, unable to avert her gaze from the youth, 
dying by the hand he loved and trusted. 

Fixedly she stared at the inert form on the bed. Then only 
the full realization of her deed seemed to burst upon her brain. 
She clutched despairingly at the cover, beneath which lay his 
restless form, his face averted, the face she so loved, yet feared, 
to see. 

" Otto! " she moaned, " Otto! " 

Her voice broke. She suddenly withdrew her hands and 
looked at them in horror, those white, beautiful hands, that had 
mixed the fatal draught. Then with a bewildered, vacant 
smile she beamed on her victim. 

Otto had lost consciousness. Nothing stirred in the chamber. 
Profound silence reigned unbroken, save for the slow chime of 
a distant bell, tolling the hour. 

Was he dead ? Had the light of the eyes, she loved so well, 
gone out for ever ? 

Her hand hovered fearfully above him, as if to drive away 
the grim spectre of death. At last, nerving herself with a 
supreme effort, she touched with trembling hand the cover 
that hid him from view. Lifting it tearfully, she turned it 
back softly, softly, murmuring his name all the time. 

Then she stooped down close, and closer yet. Her red lips 
touched the purple ones; she stroked the damp and clammy 
brow, and thrust her fingers into his soft hair. A moan came 
from his lips. Then, fastening her white robe more securely 
about her, and stepping heedfully on tip-toe, she passed out 
of the chamber. With uncertain step she glided along the 
corridor, a ghostly figure, with a white, spectral face and 
fevered eyes. At the foot of the spiral stairway she paused, 
gazing eagerly around. 

Stepping to a low casement she peered into the night. 
Flickering lights and shadows played without; the late moon 

453 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

had disappeared, leaving but a silvery trail upon the sky, to 
faintly mark her recent passage among the stars. Everything 
was still. Only the plaintive cry of an owl echoed from afar. 
Her sandalled feet sounded on the stone-paved floor, like the 
soft pattering of falling leaves hi autumn. Unsteadily she 
moved along the gray discoloured wall towards the secret 
panel, known but to herself. Soon her perplexed wandering 
gaze found what it sought, and Stephania disappeared, as if 
the stones had receded to receive her. 



454 



CHAPTER IV 



THE ANGEL OF THE AGONY 




HE morning of the following 
day broke hazy and threatening. 
But as the hours wore on, the 
sky, which had been overcast, 
brightened slowly and in that 
instant s change the earth be 
came covered with a radiance 
of sunshine and the heavens 
seemed filled with ineffable 
peace. 

It was late in the day, when Otto woke from his lethargy. 
Hour after hour he had raved without recovering conscious 
ness. His breathing grew weaker. He was thought to be hi his 
last agony. Little by little the vigour of his youth had reasserted 
itself, little by little he had opened his eyes. His sight had 
become dimmed from the effects of the poison, and his reason 
seemed to sway and to totter; the fevered flow of blood, the wild 
beating of his temples, caused everything around him to scintil 
late in a crimson haze and flit before his vision with fitful 
dazzling gleams. But his eyes seemed fixed steadily hi a remote 
recess of the room. 

Those surrounding his couch had believed him nearing 
dissolution, and when he opened his eyes, Otto looked upon 
the faces of those who had guided his steps ever since he set 
his foot upon Italian soil, Eckhardt, Count Tammus, and 
Sylvester, the silver-haired pontiff who had come from Rome. 
Their faces told him the worst. He attempted to raise himself 

455 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

in his cushions, but his strength failed him, and he fell heavily 
back. Anew his ideas became confused and his gaze resumed 
its former fixedness. 

His lips moved and Eckhardt, who bent over him, to listen, 
turned white with rage. 

" Again her accursed name," he growled, turning to the 
monk by his side. 

" Stephania where is Stephania ? " moaned the dying 
youth. 

A voice almost a shriek rent the silence. 

" I am here, Otto, I am here ! " 

A shadow passed before the eyes of the amazed visitors in 
the sick-chamber, a shadow which seemed to come out of the 
wall itself, and the wife of the Senator of Rome staggered 
towards Otto s couch, who made a feeble effort to stretch out 
his hands toward her. He could not raise them. They were 
like lead. She rushed to his side, ere Eckhardt could prevent, 
and with a sob fell down before the couch and grasped them 
tightly hi her own. 

The petrified amazement, which had pictured itself hi the 
features of those assembled, at the unexpected apparition, 
gave vent to a flurry of whispers and conjectures during which 
Eckhardt, with face drawn and white and haggard, had rushed 
through the outer chamber to the door. 

" Guards! " he thundered, " Guards! " 

Two spearmen appeared hi the doorway. 

" Seize this woman and throw her over the ramparts ! " 
the Margrave said with a voice whose calm formed a fearful 
contrast to the blazing fury in his eyes. 

The men-at-arms approached with hesitation, but Sylvester 
barred their progress with uplifted arm. 

" Vengeance is the Lord s! " he turned to Eckhardt, whose 
eyes, aflame with wrath, seemed the only living thing hi his 
stony face. 

456 



THE ANGEL OF THE AGONY 

A terrible laugh broke from the Margrave s lips. 

" His mad pleadings saved her once ! Now, all the angels 
hi heaven and demons hi hell combined shall not save her 
from her doom ! " he replied to the Pontiff. " Seize her, my 
men! She has killed your king! Over the ramparts with 
her!" 

They dared deny obedience no longer. Approaching the 
couch they laid hands on the kneeling woman. But the sight 
of violence for a moment so incensed the prostrate form in the 
cushions, that he started up, as he had done hi the vigour of 
his health. 

With eyes glowing with fever and wrath, Otto leaped from 
the bed, planting himself before the prostrate form of the 
woman. 

" Back ! " he cried. " The first who lays hand on her dies 
by my hand, a traitor! Down on your knees before the Em 
press of the Romans ! " 

Terror and amazement accomplished Stephania s salvation. 

Even Eckhardt was stunned. He knelt with the rest with 
averted face. 

"Leave the room!" Otto turned to the men-at-arms, and 
with heads bowed down they strode from the sick chamber and 
resumed their watch outside. What did it all mean ? The 
presence of the Senator s wife at their sovereign s bedside, 
Eckhardt s contradictory demeanour, Otto s strange words; 
mystified they shook their heads, glad the terrible task had 
been spared them. 

Otto s exertion was followed by a complete collapse, and 
he fell back hi a swoon. After a time he seemed to rally. With 
out assistance he sat up straight and rigid, and turned towards 
the woman, whose wan face and sunken eyes made her fatal 
beauty all the more terrible. 

" Tell me shall I live till night ? " he whispered. 

And as she hid her face from him with a sob, he continued : 

457 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

" Do not deceive me ! I am not afraid ! " 

His voice broke. Every one in the room knelt down weeping. 
Sylvester tried to answer, but in vain. Hiding his face in his 
hands, the pontiff sobbed aloud. 

"Softly softly " Otto whispered to Stephania, then 
turning towards the sky he whispered: 

"How beautiful!" 

The morning clouds were growing rosy; the twilight had 
become warm and mellow. The first beam of the sun appeared 
over the rim of the horizon. The dying youth held his face 
with closed eyes towards the light. A f aint shiver ran through 
his body and with a last effort he stretched out his arms, as if 
he would have rushed to meet the rising orb. 

Suddenly he was seized by a convulsion; the veins swelled 
on neck and temples. 

" Water water ! " he gasped choking. 

Stephania knew the symptoms. Pale as death she stag 
gered to her feet, filled a cup with clear spring water and held 
it to his lips. 

Otto, grasping her hand with the cup, drank thirstily from 
the ice-cold draught. 

Then his head fell back. A last murmur came from his 
half -open lips: 

" Stephania, Stephania " 

Then his life went out. With a moan of heart-rending 
anguish she closed his eyes. The face of the youth, 
kissed by the early rays of the December sun, took on 
a look as of one sleeping. His soul, freed from earthly love, 
had entered on its eternal repose. 

Johannes Crescentius was avenged. 

Eckhardt had watched the last moments of his king. In 
the awful presence of Death, he had restrained a new out 
burst of passion against the woman, who had so utterly made 
that dead youth her own. But he had sworn a terrible oath 

458 



THE ANGEL OF THE AGONY 

to himself, that she should pay the penalty, if that life went 
out, it would be cancelling the last debt he owed on the 
accursed Roman soil. 

And no sooner had the light faded from Otto s eyes, no 
sooner had they been closed under the soft touch of Stephania s 
hand, than Eckhardt rushed anew to the door and the terrible 
voice of the Margrave thundered through the stillness of the 
death-chamber : 

" Guards ! Throw this woman over the ramparts ! She has 
killed your King ! " 

Again the guards rushed into the chamber. The terrible 
denunciation had stirred their zeal. Stephania, kneeling by 
Otto s couch, never stirred, but as the men-at-arms, over-awed 
by the spectacle that met their gaze, paused for a moment, 
the sound of falling crystal, breaking on the floor, startled the 
silver-haired pontiff. 

He had seen enough. 

Stepping between Stephania and her would-be slayers he 
waved them back. 

Then he picked up a fragment of the empty flask. 

" This phial, " he spoke to Eckhardt, " is of the same shape 
and size as one discovered in a witch s grave, when they 
were digging the foundations for the monastery of St. 
Jerome ! " 

And he strode towards the woman and laid his hands on her 
head. 

" She will soon answer before a higher tribunal," said the 
monk of Aurillac. 

" Father," she whispered, holding the hands of the corpse 
in her own, while her head rested on her arms, "I cannot 
see, stoop down, and let me whisper " 

" I am here, daughter, close quite close to you." 

He inclined his ear to her mouth and listened. But though 
her lips moved, no words would come. 

459 



THE SORCERESS OF ROME 

After a moment or two of intense stillness, she whispered, 
raising her head. 

"It is bright again ! They are calling me ! We will go 
together to that far, distant land of peace. I am with you, 
Otto hold me up, I cannot breathe " 

Gently Sylvester lifted her head. 

" Otto, my own love forgive " she gasped. A con 
vulsive shudder passed through her body and she fell lifeless 
over the dead body of her victim. 

Stephania s proud spirit had flown. 

Sylvester muttered the prayer for the departed, and staggered 
to his feet. 

Eckhardt pointed to her lifeless clay. In his livid face burnt 
relentless, unforgiving wrath. 

" Throw that woman over the ramparts ! " he turned to his 
men. " She shall not have Christian burial ! " 

Anew Sylvester intervened. 

" Back ! " he commanded the guards. " Judge not, that 
ye may not be judged. What has passed between those two 
lies beyond the pale of human ken. He alone, who has called, 
has the right to judge them! She died absolved. May God 
have mercy on her soul ! " 

As weeping those present turned to leave the death-chamber, 
Eckhardt bent over the still, dead face of Otto. 

" I will hold the death-watch," he turned to Sylvester. 
" Have the bier prepared ! To-morrow at dawn we start. 
We return to our Saxon-land, we go back across the Alps. 
In the crypts of Aix-la-Chapelle the grandson of the great 
Otto shall rest ; he shall sleep by the side of the great emperor, 
whom he visited ere he came hither; Charlemagne s phantom 
has claimed him at last. Rome shall not have a lock of his 
hair!" 

" As you say so shall it be! " replied Sylvester, his gaze 
turning from Otto to the lifeless clay of Stephania. 

460 



THE ANGEL OF THE AGONY 

Softly he raised her dead body and laid it side by side with 
that of Theophano s son, joining their hands. 

" Though they shall sleep apart in distant lands, their souls 
are one hi the great beyond, that holds no mysteries for the 
departed." 

From the chapel of the cloister at the foot of the hill, stealing 
through the solemn stillness of the December morning, came 
the chant of the monks: 

. v/i u_i\, _^,juLiic and the 



461 



CHAPTER V 




RETURN 

HE Eve of the Millennium 

. , 1 * +he threshold of 

/I spint had flown. 

:d the prayer for the dep c -A 4 

^in of midwinter 

..v.^ -b ^u his early rays 
filled the blue balconies of the 
East with curtains of gold. 
From the slopes of Paterno a 
strange procession was to be 
seen winding its way down into 
the plains below. It was the remnant of the German host, 
carrying the bier with the body of the third Otto towards its 
distant, final resting-place. Eckhardt and Haco jointly headed 
the mournful cortege, which after reaching the plain, entered 
the northern road. Behind them lay Civita Castellana, the 
walls of the ancient citadel towering high above the town, 
which lay hi the centre of a net-work of deep ravines. To their 
right the Sabine hills extended in long, airy lines and the 
wooded heights of Pellachio and San Gennaro rose to the south 
east. Before them Viterbo with her hundred towers lay dark 
and frowning inside her bristling walls; and to northward, 
surmounted by its mighty cathedral dome, on a conical bill, 
above the great lake of Bolsena, the gray town of Montefia- 
scone rose out of the wintry haze. 

Continually harassed by the Romans the small band 
hewed their way through their pursuers who abandoned 
their onslaughts only when the Germans reached the Nera 

462 



RETURN 

and beheld the Campanile of St. Juvenale rising above 
Narni. 

Slowly the imperial cortege passed through the ancient town 
and was soon lost in the purple mists, which enshrouded moun 
tain and valley. 

Rome lay behind them, the source of their tears and sorrows. 

Onward, ever onward they rode towards the glittering crests 
of the Alps, the solemn twilight of theHercynian forest, towards 
the distant banks of the Rhine and the crypts of Aix-la-Cha- 
pelle. 



THE END. 



463 




. (Mage 

Announcement Hist 

of 



Haunters of the Silences. BY CHARLES G. 

D. ROBERTS, author of " Red Fox," " The Watchers of 
the Trails," etc. 

Cloth, one volume, with many drawings by Charles Liv 
ingston Bull, four of which are in full color . $2.00 

The stories in Mr. Roberts s new collection are the strong 
est and best he has ever written. 

He has largely taken for his subjects those animals rarely 
met with in books, whose lives are spent " In the Silences," 
where they are the supreme rulers. Mr. Roberts has writ 
ten of them sympathetically, as always, but with fine regard 
for the scientific truth. 

" As a writer about animals, Mr. Roberts occupies an enviable 
place. He is the most literary, as well as the most imaginative 
and vivid of all the nature writers." Brooklyn Eagle. 

" His animal stories are marvels of sympathetic science and 
literary exactness." New York World. 

I 



L. C. PAGE AND COMPANY S 



Prisoners Of Fortune. A TALE OF THE MASSA 
CHUSETTS BAY COLONY. BY RUEL PERLEY SMITH, 
author of " The Rival Campers," etc. 

Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by Frank T. 
Merrill $1.50 

The period of Mr. Smith s story is the beginning of the 
eighteenth century, when the shores of the American col 
onies were harassed and the seas patrolled by pirates and 
buccaneers. These robbed and spoiled, and often seized 
and put to death, the sailors and fishers anc other humbler 
folk, while their leaders claimed friendship anke with South 
ern planters and New England merchants, with whom 
it is said they frequently divided their spoils. 

The times were stern and the colonists were hardy, but 
they loved as truly and tenderly as in more peaceful days. 
Thus, while the hero s adventures with pirates and his search 
for their hidden treasure is a record of desperate encounters 
and daring deeds, his love-story and his winning of sweet 
Mary Vane is in delightful contrast. 



The Rome Express. BY MAJOR ARTHUR GRIF 
FITHS, author of " The Passenger from Calais," etc. 

Cloth decorative, with a colored frontispiece by A. O. 
Scott $1-25 

A mysterious murder on a flying express train, a wily 
Italian, a charming woman caught in the meshes of circum 
stantial evidence, a chivalrous Englishman, and a police 
force with a keen nose for the wrong clue, are the ingredi 
ents from which Major Griffiths has concocted a clever, up- 
to-date detective story. The book is bright and spirited, 
with rapid action, and consistent development which brings 
the story to a logical and dramatic ending. 




A 000 821 438 9